published Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

State to finish 'Yellow Brick Road' linking I-75, Highway 58 near Chattanooga's VW plant

Motorists travel Volkswagen Chattanooga and the supplier park along Ferdinand Piech Way. State officials are planning an extension of Ferdinand Piech Way which will connect I-75 with Highway 58.
Motorists travel Volkswagen Chattanooga and the supplier park along Ferdinand Piech Way. State officials are planning an extension of Ferdinand Piech Way which will connect I-75 with Highway 58.
Photo by Dan Henry.

State planners are powering ahead with a new artery linking Interstate 75 and Highway 58 near Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant, giving commuters and businesses a key time-saving connector in an area where traffic is burgeoning.

The new road will finally finish after two decades what Chattanooga officials had dubbed the Yellow Brick Road -- so called for helping unlock the economic development potential of the 6,000-acre Enterprise South industrial park.

When construction is done in mid-2017, the 1.3-mile piece of road will tie into a 1.4-mile section already under way. The resulting product is intended to provide Hamilton County motorists with a direct I-75 and Highway 58 connection north of the VW plant and ease the growing traffic burden.

"I'm sure that will help," said James Wingard, chief executive of Wingard Quality Supply, a company located in VW's supplier park adjacent to the huge factory.

Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said the new road will cost about $6.5 million, putting the entire I-75/Highway 58 connector's cost at nearly $12 million.

Plans are to start work on the new section in late 2015, with completion in about 18 months, she said.

The planned road work will start at a Volkswagen Drive traffic circle and improve from two to four lanes the existing private Ferdinand Piech Way into the supplier park. It will then snake behind a supplier park building pad earlier prepped to hold a couple of potential new structures. From there, it will run into the road now under construction from Highway 58 to the rear of the supplier park.

Chattanooga's Yellow Brick Road almost became detoured in 2010, however.

After the first leg was opened four years ago from Bonny Oaks Drive to I-75, there was sentiment for not building the new section and leaving Ferdinand Piech Way as a private road. There were talks about simply improving Hickory Valley Road through Enterprise South, which runs between Highway 58 and Bonny Oaks Drive and is an existing connector to I-75.

But, the new road is seen as a quicker way to move the increasing traffic through Enterprise South for companies such as Amazon and Volkswagen. The German automaker alone could hire upward of 1,000 more workers if it receives assembly of a new sport utility vehicle as anticipated.

Traffic is already swelling as a result of new workers at Enterprise South and a surge of development in that part of the county. A 312-unit apartment complex is under development in Ooltewah along with Cambridge Square, one of the county's biggest proposed mixed-use projects.

In addition, two out-of-town developers have proposed major apartment complexes in East Brainerd that would add more than 500 units to Chattanooga's rental market.

Flynn said figures show that nearly 74,000 motorists a day travel I-75 past the Volkswagen plant exit. For Highway 58, more than 23,000 vehicles go by where the new road will tie in, she said.

However, a study done for the state shows that in about 15 years, the I-75 traffic will jump to more than 91,000 motorists, with about one-third of that trucks. On Highway 58, the number of vehicles will nearly triple to more than 61,500 by 2030, the study said.

A different 2008 study done after VW announced it was going to build its only U.S. production plant in Chattanooga anticipated the sharp rise in truck and rail traffic in the area. It estimated the VW plant would generate over 500 trucks per day when it opened in 2011, growing to more than 1,000 trucks per day in 2035.

Paul Hart, who lives off Highway 58, said he now takes Hickory Valley Road to get to the Ooltewah and the Apison areas. But the new road could save even more time, he said.

"If that's the quickest way, I'd use it," Hart said.

VW Chattanooga spokesman Scott Wilson said the company is "supportive of the effort to connect I-75 with Highway 58" and it welcomes the new access.

Wingard, whose company employs about 20 people doing wheel assembly for the Passat sedans that VW now produces, said he's sure companies in the supplier park employ people who live in the Highway 58 area.

Turning Ferdinand Piech Way into a four-lane road also will improve traffic from I-75, where his deliveries come in, he said.

Flynn said TDOT has met with city and VW officials about the planned new section, and the agency is in the process of getting survey, design and environmental studies under way. She said the project is funded with an existing federal earmark.

Also under development at the industrial park are intersection improvements at Volkswagen Drive at both Discovery Drive and Bonny Oaks Drive to help move traffic. Those projects are expected to cost about $4.3 million.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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