BY THE NUMBERS
73,000 -- Number of motorists who travel U.S. Highway 27 from Interstate 24 to Signal Mountain Road every day
$102 million -- The contract amount awarded to Wright Bros. for U.S. 27 upgrade from Signal Mountain Road south to the river
$80 million -- Estimated cost of upgrade of U.S. 27 from I-24 north to the river
$18 million -- Projected cost of adding two more lanes to the Olgiati Bridge over the Tennessee River
Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation
Chattanooga motorists traveling on U.S. Highway 27 will likely have to maneuver around orange cones and construction crews for at least the next five years as workers rebuild, revamp and expand the downtown thoroughfare.
Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said Thursday the work is overdue and will finally complete the upgrade of U.S. 27 all the way from Interstate 24 in Chattanooga to Interstate 40 in Rockwood, Tenn.
"Roads are critical to moving goods and attracting business and when we are behind the curve we lose business," Schroer said after a meeting with the Downtown Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. "Highway 27 might be a little behind the curve and should have been done before now. But we have limited resources and we're doing it now because we know this is an important road for Chattanooga."
The Tennessee Department of Transportation awarded its second-biggest contract ever last year to Wright Bros. of Charleston, Tenn., for $102 million to rebuild U.S. 27 with new exit and entrance ramps from Olgiati Bridge north to Signal Mountain Road. The three-year project will be followed by up to three more years of work south of the Olgiati Bridge.
From I-24 to the river, TDOT is finalizing an $80 million plan for new frontage roads, exits and a roundabout interchange at M.L. King Boulevard and the Highway 27 on and off ramps.
"The downtown portion of this project [from Interstate 24 to the Olgiati Bridge] will be at least a three-year project because we're working with the city to make this a gateway to downtown with a lot more aesthetically pleasing architectural feature," said Ken Flynn, regional operations manager for TDOT in Chattanooga. "We also have walkways and bicycle paths which is another reason we're making a huge roundabout down there as a central feature on M.L. King Boulevard."
Flynn said "the basic design is set and now we're figuring out how to best build" the project "while maintaining traffic flow during construction."
Schroer said TDOT officials met with Mayor Ron Littlefield, city planners and RiverCity Co. officials last fall to help make the Highway 27 upgrade friendlier to pedestrians and bikers.
RiverCity President Kim White said she is encouraged by the state's willingness to work on making the downtown highway more attractive and accommodating for those walking or biking from the westside to the central city.
Matt Gilbert, one of those at Thursday's Chamber breakfast, said the state needs to do more to inform motorists about how to navigate roundabouts such as the one proposed downtown.
"Drivers need to know the etiquette of roundabouts and it ought to be on the drivers test," he said. "It can be a confusing environment, especially for new drivers."
Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...