published Monday, November 12th, 2012

The big rebuild: Tennessee eyes $100 million redesign of I-75/24 split

Northbound traffic travels on Interstate 75  approaching the I-24 split early Thursday morning. There will be a public hearing this week on plans to rebuild the I-75 / I-24 interchange to add lanes and improve safety.
Northbound traffic travels on Interstate 75 approaching the I-24 split early Thursday morning. There will be a public hearing this week on plans to rebuild the I-75 / I-24 interchange to add lanes and improve safety.
Photo by Dan Henry.

IF YOU GO

What: Stakeholders meeting for I-75/24 rebuild

When: 2:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Development Resource Center, 1250 Market St., conference room B

Information: I-75 corridor feasibility study: http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/i75/

It's an old story for some Chattanooga commuters: Sitting in stalled traffic, late for work or dinner, while tow trucks haul mangled wrecks off the pavement at the Interstate 75/24 split.

Someday -- maybe not too long from now -- that could change.

State transportation planners this week will unveil ideas for a massive rebuilding of the 75/24 split that aims to make the river of cars and trucks flow better and more safely.

That's welcome news to Sgt. Gary Martin in the Chattanooga Police Department's traffic division. He's one of the guys who get called when a southbound truck on I-75 falls off the two-lane concrete bridge or a northbound trucker dumps his rig in the sharp right-angle turn just past the Tennessee Welcome Center.

"I can't tell you how many flipped vehicles I've worked there. That curve is just notorious for tractor-trailers rolling over," Martin said.

The $100 million-plus project is part of a larger I-75 corridor study that also calls for widening the highway to eight lanes from the Georgia line to I-24; improving exit and entry at the East Brainerd Road interchange and adding more lanes to I-75 between exit 11 at Collegedale and exit 20 in Cleveland, all by 2029.

Karen Rennich, deputy director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, said the Tennessee Department of Transportation is looking for responses to some concepts it has developed for the I-75/24 rebuild.

"Both residents and travelers through the area have commented over time that there have been congestion or safety issues at the interchange," Rennich said. "Living here and traveling here, we're using that interchange quite a bit. We see some of the things that go on, and as residents and businesses, we can give feedback on those concepts."

On northbound I-75, ideas include reworking the entry ramp from Ringgold Road and extending the visitor center ramp to minimize traffic weaving, and widening and flattening the sharp curve where I-75 turns northeast and I-24 traffic merges in.

The westbound ramp to I-24 would be a new flyover leaving from the right side of I-75 and merging into westbound I-24 in the slow lane near Spring Creek Road.

Martin said he thinks the proposals make sense.

"I think it would help rush hour traffic greatly going into downtown from I-75. The flow of traffic should be a lot smoother," he said.

There's no hard-and-fast timetable for the work. Project costs mentioned in the 2010 study are in 2008 dollars, and the study projects the I-75/24 rebuild being complete in 2015. That's not going to happen.

East Ridge is keeping a close eye on developments, and city officials are "very much in favor" of the project, City Manager Tim Gobble said.

"I-24 and I-75 I think is the busiest truck route in the United States and one of the busiest for cars," Gobble said. "We hope people get off at exit 1 and eat and buy gas. Anytime we get people on Ringgold Road, we think that's a good thing because that's our central business district."

East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert said construction could bring headaches, but the city might benefit if the entry and exit ramps on the northbound side are revamped. The ramp exits on Ringgold Road "very close to the Camp Jordan red light," Lambert said.

"It may be that area needs a little massaging to make more room for people trying to get to Camp Jordan."

Jennifer Flynn, spokeswoman for TDOT Region 2, said the rebuild will be done on the present rights of way so the state won't need to acquire a lot of new property.

The primary property owner on either side of I-75 between the state line and I-24 is Osborn Enterprises, now a subsidiary of Luken Holdings.

Russ Elliott, principal broker for Luken, said the rebuild might also help the company find a developer for its 61-acre property in East Ridge. The land on the east side of I-75 is in a flood way and can't be developed, he said.

But he also welcomed news of the changes to come as a local resident.

"Something needs to be done at that interchange; it's pretty bad. ... It's like running the gauntlet every morning," Elliott said. "We're like anybody else. We'd love to see the interstate get better, love to see it get safer, because it's not safe now."

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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