HOW TO COMMENT
• Email TDOT.Comments@tn.gov.
• Send written comments by Sept. 2 to:
Tennessee Department of Transportation
James K. Polk Building
505 Deaderick St.
Nashville TN 37423-0332
When the contract to widen U.S. Highway 27 from north of the Olgiati Bridge to Signal Mountain Boulevard goes out in October, it will contain a few surprises.
Commuters and business people who use the road daily have waited years for extra lanes and broader exits. But the plan for the $75 million project actually calls for shutting down exits at Manning Street and Whitehall Road -- a fact that took some folks in the area by surprise.
"Really?" said Rena Buckles, standing next to a display of pet accessories and speaking over the sound of barking dogs at The Ark Pet Spa and Hotel. The business is just across Cherokee Boulevard from the Whitehall Road ramp.
"We like that we're at the very bottom of the exit. Our customers can't miss us," said Buckles, The Ark's manager.
Next door at Printree Printing and Signage, Mark Wiedenbrenner said shutting down the Whitehall exit will be a big inconvenience to the employees.
"That's the way we all get to work," he said.
But he said the printing company's customers don't often come that way.
"It's an old exit, and it's not the safest one," Wiedenbrenner said.
Buckles said the same about the narrow access lanes where cars meet each other entering and exiting U.S. 27.
"People get confused all the time and miss the exit," she said. "It's convenient, but it's dangerous."
The Manning Street exit is the same and that's why they must go, Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.
"Because of the Federal Highway Administration, we've got to get it up to current standards. The designs have changed since the '60s," Flynn said.
A bonus for northbound commuters will be a two-lane exit to Signal Mountain Boulevard with a left-turn lane at the bottom.
Jim Johnston, head of the design section for TDOT's Region 2, said the rebuilt off-ramp will add capacity, as the 2005 widening of the Signal Mountain Boulevard on-ramp did.
"We finally realized these people were coming on in the morning and they've got to go back in the afternoon," Johnston said.
The project is set to go to contract Oct. 28 and the contractor could begin work before the end of the year, Flynn said.
TDOT is holding a public comment period through Sept. 2 as part of an environmental review, Flynn said.
In the TDOT regional office on Cromwell Road, a taped-together printout assembled from pages showing the design covered six or seven feet of a long conference table.
Leaning over the table, Johnston and roadway specialist supervisor Robert Rodgers pointed out features of the project:
• There will be at least three and sometimes four traffic lanes in each direction.
• The Manufacturer's Road southbound exit and entry ramps will be rebuilt with larger curves and greater traffic separation. The intersection will be several yards farther west than now.
• The Manning and Whitehall ramps will be permanently closed.
• The Dayton Boulevard exit ramp will be rebuilt slightly north of its present location.
• The Signal Mountain Boulevard exit will be widened to two lanes. A left-turn lane leading to Dayton Boulevard will be built at the bottom of the ramp.
The project calls for replacement of five bridges and construction of many feet of retaining walls.
And TDOT has planned for pyrite-laden shale that lies under the surface along the route, Rodgers said.
Rather than trying to cover or cap the shale, which can cause acid runoff that harms surface water, the contractor will haul it away to landfills in nearby counties, Rodgers said.
The contractor will keep at least two lanes of traffic flowing and will work with the city of Chattanooga to coordinate signal lights and traffic control.
And when it's done, "It'll be safer and wider and more open and an easier commute," Flynn said.
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...