published Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Freight study calls for more, wider roads

Chattanooga Regional Freight Profile
Chattanooga Regional Freight Profile

To paraphrase an advertising slogan, Chattanooga's needs move by truck.

But it won't be long before trucks overwhelm the roads available for them, according to a new study that looks at ways to facilitate freight movement, a key part of the region's economy.

The solution? Mostly more and wider roads, with some nods to rail, water and the possibility of connecting them all into a seamless web to ease freight movement.

"Looking into the future, there's a huge need to be about transportation planning, particularly the freight side of it," said Steve Leach, the Chattanooga public works director who represents the city on the local transportation planning board.

The study, called the "Chattanooga Regional Freight Profile," says the Chattanooga region is not only a transportation hub, but 42 percent of its employment base -- from Volkswagen to Little Debbie -- is built around industries that depend on logistics to bring in supplies and ship out products.

In addition, Interstates 75 and 24 together funnel more than 19,000 trucks through the city each day, the study says.

The study looks at ways to nurture that economic base and plan for growth by improving freight transportation by truck, train and water.

"These road projects, rail projects and water projects take a long time to get accomplished, even with the best intentions," Leach said. "It's critical they do the right analysis and come up with some future strategies."

The study was conducted by Austin, Texas-based Cambridge Systematics Inc. for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County/North Georgia Transportation Planning Agency. The TPO's executive committee is scheduled to approve the study Tuesday.

"The consultants were charged to evaluate potential options and solutions for increasing freight movement," said Melissa Taylor, director of strategic long-range planning for the Regional Planning Agency. "We know from past trends that truck traffic is going to continue to be a mode of freight movement, but we also wanted to look to capture other modes. We're trying to look at a more balanced approach."

According to the study, the share of freight hauled in or out of the region by truck will grow from 76 percent in 2007 to almost 90 percent in 2035.

For example, the Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South industrial park is expected to generate more than 500 new daily truck trips and two new daily train trips in its first year. By 2035, the study projects more than 1,000 daily truck trips and 3.5 daily train trips from the plant.

The nearby Amazon distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties also will drive truck traffic.

Not only the interstates but local arteries -- U.S. Highways 11 and 27, state Highways 58 and 153 -- and surface streets face more crowding, more wear and more safety problems if nothing is done, the study says.

What to do?

There's been talk about widening interstates 75, 24 and 59 for years, and the Chattanooga regional freight study details problems and suggests solutions -- extra traffic lanes, a truck-only lane along the Ridge cut on I-24, truck-only routes and alternate routes for detours when main routes are blocked.

The study includes some projects already in the planning stages and potential solutions for the future. Among them:

• Rebuilding the I-75/I-24 interchange so westbound traffic can merge more safely.

• Building another I-75 interchange at Ooltewah-Georgetown Road.

• Extending DuPont Parkway beyond state Highway 153 to Hixson Pike.

• Widening East Third and East Fourth streets to four lanes between Lindsay and Hampton streets for a designated truck corridor.

• Studying a bypass to keep nonlocal truck traffic completely out of the city.

The study details similar needs in the region's rail and water transportation, suggesting attention to railroad crossings to ease congestion and construction of more docks at the Centre South Riverport.

The study also says the city has no truly intermodal facilities where freight easily can be swapped among water, rail and truck for efficient transportation and distribution.

The study doesn't consider costs or timelines, only ways to facilitate freight movement, said Dike Ahanoutu, with Cambridge Systematics, in an email.

"The goals of the project analysis were to: 1) describe which projects that the TPO was already planning to have freight beneficial elements and 2) Identify additional projects that would be needed to move goods in the region," Ahanoutu wrote.

"This second group of projects would be projects for the TPO to consider during their next [long-range transportation plan] update. At that time, cost estimates and timelines would need to be associated with each project should it be added to the LRTP project list."

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about Judy Walton...

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 ...

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