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Interchange naming to honor Ford’s contributions

One of Washington County’s biggest supporters will receive a permanent nod of thanks with the naming of the Honorable Dale Ford Interchange in Gray.
During his years as a District 6 state representative from 2006-2012, Ford championed the construction and reconfiguration of Exit 13 on Interstate 26 at the Bobby Hicks Highway.
Increased traffic from the population growth in Gray and Sulphur Springs resulted in residents battling excessive congestion at an interchange no longer able to handle the flow.
Ford took the need to Nashville, and his persistence and dogged determination went a long way toward gaining approval.
“I probably had 12 to 15 meetings with TDOT about the project,” Ford said last week. “It’s a good thing for our community.”
Quick to share credit with others who had a hand in the effort, Ford said he is humbled by the naming. “It’s a great honor, and I appreciate all the work that went into it.”
Commissioner Mark Larkey said he witnessed the problems with the interchange firsthand as a resident of Gray and a representative of the 7th District. “So many times you see a project completed, and the people who worked so hard are forgotten,” he said.
Others who were instrumental in helping make the project a reality, Larkey noted, were Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins; Clarence Mabe, Board of Education member and local business owner; Scott Buckingham, former county commissioner and current property assessor; and Janice White, former county commissioner.
Larkey also pointed to the approximately $13 million price tag. “To bring those type of dollars back to our community is significant, and it didn’t happen overnight.”
It did happen in record time though, according to Deakins. “From the time we started talking to Dale to the time the project was completed was five years,” he said. “You don’t see a project done in five years. Normally, it’s eight to 10 years to get started.”
But the accomplishment didn’t come as a surprise. “That’s how Dale works; he gets things done.”
Deakins shares the opinion that Ford is a valued partner. “Dale Ford and Bobby Hicks were two of the best representatives we had who could bring infrastructure to Washington County,” he said. “They had a knack of working well with both sides of the aisle, the governor and the commissioner of transportation.”
Building good relationships is a necessity for a politician, according to Ford. “The thing about being a representative is you have to sell yourself, and then you can sell your community,” he said. “And the key to selling yourself is to do what you say you’re going to do.”
Ford wasn’t looking for personal gain through his commitment to Washington County, he said. “I didn’t have any agenda for Dale Ford. It was about working for the community, and it was the hardest job I ever had.”
When the Herald and Tribune spoke to Ford, he was in Murfreesboro preparing to teach an umpire clinic for the State of Tennessee. “It’s something I do every September, and I enjoy working with the kids and the coaches,” he said. “They do a good job, and I think they deserve that much.”
Ford was a highly regarded Major League Baseball umpire, a position he held for 27 years. During 25 of those years, he also umpired high school and college baseball, and refereed Division 1 College Basketball.
In recognition of Ford’s many contributions and the importance of improvements to the interchange, Larkey said holding some kind of event in conjunction with the sign unveiling seemed like a good opportunity.
Mayor Dan Eldridge agreed. “The interchange is the gateway to Johnson City and Washington County, and for many years it had been a bottleneck,” he said. “There had been a lot of concern expressed, but we didn’t have a way forward.”
Without knowing the cost or the time frame, it was hard to compete for precious dollars in Nashville, he said. “Dale recognized the need, and in a remarkably short time was able to get a commitment from TDOT for the project. This is good for Washington County and the region.”
The Oct. 16 ceremony will take place on the north side of Exit 13 in Gray at 10 a.m. The event is open to the public, and community members are encouraged to attend.