When Volkswagen builds its first car in Chattanooga in 2011, some of the road work at Interstate 75’s nearby Exit 11 may be ongoing — years after federal budget constraints snarled progress, according to state transportation officials.
To ease an already congested area, the state plans on widening and adding an additional connector to highways near the Ooltewah I-75 interchange to ease, said Wes Hughen, Tennessee Department of Transportation project manager.
“Do we wish it was further along? I think everyone does, but it’s just not,” Mr. Hughen said. “We have what we have, and now Volkswagen says they are coming.”
The state will construct a road to extend from the Enterprise South interchange at Interstate 75 to where Apison Pike meets Old Lee Highway. That’s in addition to a separate project to widen Apison Pike between Old Lee Highway and Little Debbie Parkway. And there are plans to eventually widen Apison Pike to Ooltewah-Ringgold Road.
A $52 million project is underway to widen I-75 from near mile marker 10 to mile marker 12, a project that includes a redesign of the Ooltewah interchange at Exit 11. It’s scheduled for completion in December 2010.
Work at that exit has been discussed for several years, Times Free Press archives show. In 2007, the project was delayed when Congress made massive highway construction budget cuts. Now the work has taken on greater importance since Volkswagen announced a $1 billion automotive assembly plant at the Enterprise South industrial park, just west of the planned construction.
To help speed the process, the state transportation department is using a new “design-build” process aimed at reducing construction delays by having one contractor work on planning and construction of the roadway at the same time, said Jennifer Flynn, a TDOT spokeswoman. The state has used the process only once before, on a smaller scale in Nashville, and even though it may prove quicker, that contract won’t be awarded until spring 2009, she said.
“The design-build process is supposed to speed up a project,” Ms. Flynn said. “Instead of getting the funding and then doing the project in phases, like we normally do, everything will be done concurrently.”
Now, the state completes each step in such a construction process before moving to the next, which involves getting environmental plans complete before buying rights-of-way and then starting construction only after all the rights-of-way have been secured.
“The contractor could be buying portions of the right-of-way and doing some work, like building a bridge, all at the same time,” Mr. Hughen said.
But even with this plan and an eye on speed, the work could take several years, Ms. Flynn and Mr. Hughen said. Neither wanted to give a time estimate on when the work would be complete since the state hasn’t awarded the contract and also because this is one of the state’s very first design-build projects.
It usually takes five to 10 years to take a road from concept to completion, but some of the planning work already has been done near Exit 11.
“We don’t know when (the road would be open to the public), but this is different because we already have the environmental plan, the technical phase complete ... so the contractor will move right into the right-of-way phase and the technical planning part,” Mr. Hughen said.
Business owners in the area are saying the project is necessary, and Ms. Flynn said the state had been planning the road work for years, so Volkwagen’s construction announcement only increases the emphasis on the project.
“This was in the planning. It’s not being done because of the Volkswagen plant,” she said.
Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...