published Friday, August 1st, 2014

Bonny Oaks traffic near Volkswagen revs up worries

Traffic moves Thursday down Bonny Oaks Drive.
Traffic moves Thursday down Bonny Oaks Drive.

As Volkswagen adds 2,000 jobs and Enterprise South industrial park is marketed to other companies, worries are accelerating over traffic bottlenecks and accidents on the two-lane part of Bonny Oaks Drive.

"It's not going to get better," City Councilman Russell Gilbert said about traffic on the key state road that borders the industrial park and serves as one of its main gateways. "It's only going to get worse."

Gilbert has asked Mayor Andy Berke's economic development staff to forward his concerns to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. He said he wants the state to push up the road's widening on its priority list, and he'd like to see more money flow to the project.

The state is eyeing the road's expansion to five lanes, but it's still years away under TDOT's existing schedule.

Estimates put the cost at $48.8 million a couple of years ago.

Doug Whitaker, president of Orlandi Laboratories in the industrial park, said traffic can be "a nightmare" particularly in the late afternoon around holiday season when nearby Amazon ramps up its hiring.

"Especially, Bonny Oaks needs to be addressed," he said.

Between Interstate-75 and Highway 153, about three miles of Bonny Oaks remains just two lanes.

TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said officials realize improvements are needed on the section, though it's still early in the process and a start date isn't set.

"It's on our radar," she said.

While the state carries out early planning on the widening and looks at purchasing right of way, which itself could take a couple of years, TDOT is to start intersection improvements on and near Bonny Oaks which should speed traffic flow in the interim, Flynn said.

On Bonny Oaks at Volkswagen Drive, plans are to add a westbound acceleration lane. Also, TDOT is to add an eastbound left turn lane with 1,000 feet of traffic storage to provide dual left movement from Volkswagen Drive. In addition, an eastbound through lane is to be added east of the intersection.

On Volkswagen Drive, the state is adding a southbound through-left shared lane. Also, the southbound right turn lane will be expanded to include a 1,000-foot acceleration lane along Bonny Oaks to allow free-flow right movements, according to TDOT.

Nearby at the Volkswagen and Discovery drives roundabout, there are plans to add lanes.

TDOT said these and other improvements could go into its October construction contract letting schedule. The estimated cost of the work is $4.3 million.

Additionally, TDOT is building a new road from Highway 58 to the back of the VW supplier park that will tie into an improved existing road. When finished in mid-2017, the artery will provide commuters and businesses with a direct link between Highway 58 and I-75, which is expected to improve traffic in the industrial park.

However, complicating the state's road building is uncertainty over the federal highway bill. Unless Congress reaches an agreement this week, the government plans to start reducing federal highway aid payments to states.

The U.S. Transportation Department has said that by Friday the trust fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid and states should expect an average reduction of 28 percent.

Gilbert said VW's plans to build a new sport utility vehicle at its plant and the possibility of wooing more suppliers to the industrial park is "a great opportunity" for the city.

In turn, he said, there needs to be a focus on traffic flow and safety in the area, and freeing up more funding for widening Bonny Oaks would help.

"Whatever it takes," he said. "Traffic is pretty bad."

Terry Wilt, co-owner of Tag Manufacturing in the industrial park, said traffic at shift change can be "horrendous."

He said he'd like to see Bonny Oaks move up the state's priority list as well.

Whitaker added that Silverdale Academy at Bonny Oaks and Silverdale Road has grown sharply and that provides a lot of congestion at times.

He and Wilt said the city has been proactive about helping traffic in the industrial park. Whitaker said he'd like to see a new roundabout at Discovery Drive and Hickory Valley Road.

Some changes already have been made, including providing a new road from VW's parking lot to Discovery Drive and offering better traffic flow inside the industrial park.

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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