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Front Page - Friday, May 26, 2017

Help on the way for troubled, congested I-24/I-75 interchange

View from the northbound lanes of I-75 approaching the I-24 West interchange. - Photograph by Alex McMahan

Relief is on the way for motorists negotiating the split of two major interstates in Chattanooga that are critical to transporting freight from East Coast seaports to destinations across the country.

The impetus is Tennessee’s newly enacted IMPROVE Act, which among other things increases fuel taxes over the next three years to help fund much-needed transportation infrastructure projects. The goal was to help assure funding for transportation infrastructure projects over the next 12 to 14 years, state Transportation Department officials say.

In the Chattanooga area, seven road projects will move forward in the 2018 fiscal year, according to TDOT’s three-year plan. Information on bridge projects is forthcoming.

In one highway project, involving a $65 million modification of the I-24/I-75 interchange, construction is to take place during the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1. The other six road projects are at the preliminary engineering stage.

The project is expected to include “flyover” bridges to allow for smoother transitions between the interstate highways.

“Chattanooga’s great logistically,” says Charles Wood, vice president of economic development with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’re a pinch point or a hub that connects a lot of big markets, so because of that our infrastructure is critical.”

The city is also unusual in that it’s part of a three-state economic region that covers 16 counties in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. An area working group called THRIVE 2055 is looking at infrastructure and roadways in order to better coordinate projects, including road projects. Chattanooga is “sitting basically at a three-state intersection,” Wood points out.

In 1990 the 16-county region had a population of approximately 806,000, according to information on the THRIVE 2055 website, thrive2055.com. By 2000, population had grown to about 920,000, and in 2010 the reported population was approximately 1,019,000, the group says.

“Just from a growth perspective, we’re outgrowing our infrastructure. In this part of the state, topography is also a challenge,” Wood says. “There are mountains, rivers and ridges so it’s harder and more expensive to develop major roads infrastructure.”

Wood says 80 percent of the truck traffic going through Chattanooga “didn’t originate in Chattanooga and doesn’t deliver here,” he adds. Many of the goods that enter the United States through southeast Atlantic ports like Savannah and Charleston will pass through Chattanooga along the southern highways that some have dubbed “Freight Alley.”

“The interstate projects will improve capacity along our area interstates and address interchange issues on I-75 at the I-24 interchange and on I-75 in the area of Hamilton Place,” said Jennifer Flynn, TDOT community relations officer for the region that includes Chattanooga. The interchange work will be done on a design-build basis, which allows a contractor to provide design and construction services under one contract with TDOT. She says the area carries between 107,000 and 127,000 vehicles each day.

Flynn describes the other Chattanooga FY 2018 projects, in the preliminary design stages:

n SR-8 (Signal Mountain Boulevard/US-127, which will address safety issues on the road that goes up Signal Mountain. The road is prone to settlement.

n SR-320 (East Brainerd Road), the last piece in completing the widening of East Brainerd Road from I-75 to Ooltewah-Ringgold Road. This project and the one planned for SR-320 will help with traffic flow in the East Brainerd and Collegedale areas.

-- SR-321 (Ooltewah-Ringgold Road), planning for a project to widen this road, which is currently two lanes.

-- I-24 from I-59 (Georgia State Line) to U.S. 27, which involves a future project to widen I-24, currently two lanes in each direction.

-- I-75 interchange modification at Hamilton Place Mall to improve traffic flow in the area.

-- I-75 in Hamilton and Bradley counties, involving future road widening.

Projects in the Chattanooga area are updated on this TDOT web page: http://www.tn.gov/tdot/section/projects-region-2.

Chattanooga-area projects to be undertaken in FY 2018

Road and bridge projects scheduled for the next 12 to 14 years under the IMPROVE Act, the recently passed state law that raises revenue for infrastructure projects. All projects listed are within Hamilton County, except where noted. Some projects that span more than one county might not be shown.

ProgramRouteProject desc.MilesPhaseEst. Cost to Comp. (millions)Backlog?
Trade SR 8 From SR 27 (Suck Creek Rd.) to north of Palisades Drive (Mountain Rd.) 3.1 mi Engineering phase $5.50 No
Urban Growth SR 320 From East of Bel-Air Rd. to SR 321 (Ooltewah-Ringgold Rd.) 1.5 Engineering phase $19.30 No
Urban Growth SR 321 From SR-317 (Apison Pk.) to SR-320 (East Brainerd Rd.) 4.5 Engineering phase $56.70 No
Interstate I-24 I-59 to US 27 10 Engineering phase $171.60 No
Interstate I-75 Interchange Modification at I-24 (Design build) 0.4 Construction $65 No
Interstate I-75 Interchange Modification at Hamilton Place Mall 0.4 Engineering phase $40 No
Interstate I-75 From North of US-64 to US-74 * 8.8 Engineering phase $95.10 No