published Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

TDOT moves along with Highway 27 widening


by Cliff Hightower
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell Traffic moves along U.S. Highway 27 near downtown Chattanooga.
Audio clip

Jennifer Flynn

The state could start buying property to widen and straighten U.S. Highway 27 from Interstate 24 to the Olgiati Bridge at the end of this year, but the actual construction could be years off, officials say.

Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said there's no construction money now, but land acquisition will begin in the fall and move quickly.

"It should be completed (within) nine months," Mrs. Flynn said.

The plans call for straightening some of the S curves that approach the bridge and for building longer entrance and exit ramps, Mrs. Flynn said. The project includes new frontage roads and a new entrance to 13th Street.

Mrs. Flynn said it could be three to four years before construction starts.

The project has been on the drawing board for years.

In 1996, TDOT's plans for the project drew opposition from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Chamber of Commerce and numerous other residents.

The latest plans were presented to the public almost two years ago. At the time, officials predicted right-of-way acquisition would begin this year.

Mrs. Flynn said last week that $3.4 million is budgeted to begin acquiring 18 tracts of land along U.S. 27 next year. The actual cost won't be known until the state negotiates settlements with landowners.

Geological testing to determine the structure and composition of the underlying structures is under way. Results will be incorporated into the right-of-way plan.

The state will buy Dr. Charles Holt's dental office on Carter Street to make room for the new 13th Street exit and a small portion of the First Baptist Church's overflow parking lot, Mrs. Flynn said. The rest of the acquisitions will be small portions along the highway, she said.

She said about 10 retaining walls will be built to minimize having to buy more property. But that proposal has faced scrutiny.

Jerry Adams, an accountant for Joseph Decosimo and Co., said last week that he was chairman of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce when the first plans came out in 1996.

Mr. Adams said he and the Chamber opposed those plans at the time and, if the walls were still in the plan, he would still oppose them.

Using retaining walls along U.S. 27 could "divide" the downtown area, he said. After so much work over the years to make downtown a gem for tourists and residents, the walls could blemish the city's visual beauty.

"They said they were going to make the concrete walls look nice, but I don't know if you can make concrete walls look nice," Mr. Adams said.

Dr. Holt said last week he has owned his building for 10 years but is planning to move.

He acknowledges the need for the project but said the uncertainty over how long it will take to acquire the property puts him in a minor bind.

"It would be nice if there were strict timetables," he said.

Dr. Holt said he is part of a business venture to move to an office being developed on Riverfront Parkway. If the acquisition takes too long, it could halt those plans, he said.

"I'm making plans and they are not concrete," he said.

TDOT officials said 90 percent of the project will be paid for with federal funds and 10 percent will come from the state.

Mayor Ron Littlefield said he knows the state is in a cash crunch. But he said that, for economic development purposes, the highway needs straightening for truck traffic coming in and out of downtown. The plans have been in the works for at least 20 years, he said.

"I hope it's not too many years ahead," Mr. Littlefield said. "It's time for action."

PDF: US-27 proposed project design

BY THE NUMBERS

* 18: Property acquisitions needed to straighten and widen U.S. Highway 27

* 1.4: Mileage of project from Interstate 24 to Olgiati Bridge

* 1: Number of businesses affected by the project

Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation

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TnFlash said...

We need to have the Hwy 27 widening to include extra lanes all the way to Signal Mountain Blvd. not just to the river. When a highway passes through a high density traffic area the number of traffic lanes should never be reduced.

January 3, 2010 at 3:16 a.m.
tdvol said...

And on the other side of town, wouldn't it be much safer to have Highway 153 from the dam to I-75 reconstructed in the manner I-75 is in Ooltewah, with 3 or 4 WIDE traffic lanes and extra wide curb lanes.

January 3, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.
cave_demon said...

I live in Middle Valley and drive 27 to downtown a few times per week, as well as 153 across the dam to Harrison and Ooltewah a lot as well, and there is no doubt whatsoever that 153 needs to be widened way before 27 does. 27 even at rush hour isn't bad at all. It's only a little bunched up for about half an hour around 5PM. It's not worth spending multi millions on a project that presents very little improvement. 27 just isn't that congested. The growth in the Chattanooga area is all toward the East Brainerd/Hamilton Place/Ooltewah-Collegedale areas, not Red Bank and Signal. Also, I-24 from downtown to the 24/59 split is pretty dangerous. I'm always a huge supporter of improving roads, but I just think that 153 or 24 would be better choices for putting money into.

January 3, 2010 at 11:12 a.m.
stingking4 said...

WHILE THIS A MUCH NEEDED PROJECT WHY WAS THIS NOT DONE WHEN THE BRIDGE WAS WIDENED,WE NOW WILL A BOTTLE NECK AGAIN FOR MONTHS ON END!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

January 3, 2010 at 11:51 a.m.
namvet047 said...

this is the way that the city and state work, they never think ahead in order to save money ,always 30 years behind time.

January 3, 2010 at 12:21 p.m.
flith said...

namvet047, TNFlash, stingking4 should really understand the topic before their uninformed comments. I'll briefly fill them in on the last 13 years.

TDOT originally wanted to widen US 27 from I-24 to Signal Mtn Blvd in three phases. The first was supposed to be downtown, followed by the bridge, and then the rest over Stringers Ridge.

When TDOT first unveiled it's plans, the City of Chattanooga asked the state to defer the downtown part because they did not want a super highway with flyovers and collector feeder systems further dividing downtown. So while the City was working on its own study (outcome recommended decommissioning the freeway and replacing with boulevard / traffic lights) the state went forward with Phase II (bridge), and Phase III (Stringers Ridge). The stringers ridge phase has been delayed because of a type of shale that was discovered during preparation. The shale must be protected from rain so that the runoff doesn't further pollute the waterways in the area. This has required additional engineering and of course money. The last I heard is that it should be starting soon.

Actually a great deal of planning and preparation has gone into this. The bridge was originally designed to support 8 lanes of traffic but only opened with 4. No additional modifications were needed to the footing in the river, just widening the deck itself.

It is fun to jump on the, “they don't plan and they waste money all of the time bandwagon”.

January 3, 2010 at 9:53 p.m.
jci said...

I have no problem with the ramps being added or redone on the East side of the freeway. However, the core of downtown 5PM traffic that wishes to leave downtown going toward Atlanta and Nashville will all be funneled into "ONE" entrance via a "ROUND-A-BOUT" at MLK (unless I missed an entrance ramp). I guess people can drive down and clog up the Main Street entrance ramp!!! Fourth Street will no longer have an entrance in this direction (only going over the river)!!!! Can you imagine "Riverbend" traffic trying to get out of town????!!!! Personally, I never go downtown so they can screw it up all they want. If they have to spend the money, this is the "WRONG" way to do it.......especially on the west side of the freeway between Fourth Street and MLK.

January 3, 2010 at 10:07 p.m.
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