Anyone who's ever crept bumper to bumper along Interstate 24 for an hour to get past a crash or a breakdown on the shoulder knows what "congestion" means.
For that matter, people stretching their defensive driving skills to the limit weaving through the crush of roaring big rigs, whizzing commuters and slow-rolling visitors on the old and narrow artery have a pretty solid definition of "highway safety."
State planners think I-24 needs more of the latter and less of the former and are looking for a consultant to help make it happen.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is seeking proposals for a study of the 178-mile I-24 corridor from Chattanooga to Nashville.
The road is "one of a set of key strategic corridors where travel demands, including heavy freight and goods movements, have increased significantly over the past 20 years and are projected to continue to grow," according to the state's request for proposals.
The consultant will "investigate a range of multimodal solutions to address future travel demands, with emphasis on managing congestion, improving safety, maximizing the potential for freight diversion, and preserving/enhancing the corridor's economic benefits," according to the request.
It's part of TDOT's Long-Range Transportation Plan, a 25-year blueprint to help get people and goods where they need to go.
David Jackson, mayor of Kimball, Tenn., to the west of Chattanooga, said he hopes the result of the study is improved safety. He noted there's a lot of back-and-forth between Kimball and Chattanooga by commuters, students and visitors, and the curvy section of I-24 between Nickajack Lake and the Georgia state line is a frequent accident site.
"Getting goods from one place to another is important, but I think the main thing with I-24 between Kimball and Chattanooga is the safety issue," said Jackson. "There's so much traffic on that two-lane road, it needs to be three lanes."
Monteagle, Tenn., Mayor Marilyn Nixon said anything that makes it easier for people to stop and stay in her city is good for the local economy. She pointed to an ongoing TDOT project to widen the road off exit 135 to serve the travel plaza there.
"That will be easier for the residents and for the tourists. That's tax dollars for all of us," Nixon said.
Proposals are due by Thursday and the study is expected to take 18 months.
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 ...