published Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

East Brainerd traffic fixes could hit $150 million, study says

It took none in the room by surprise on Tuesday when three UTC engineering students presented their projection of traffic patterns on Gunbarrel Road near Hamilton Place going into the year 2055.

"There are problems now, what's it going to be like with population growth?" said Charlie Vaden, one of the students.

The answer is worse. And it could take an estimated $150 million to complete a variety of upgrades to improve traffic flow, not including land acquisition for road widening, according to a new study.

Over a year ago, Vaden, Mark Skelton and Weiran Yang were assigned the traffic study and projection project as part of their engineering school curriculum. The project was commissioned by the East Brainerd Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

David Rhea, president of the East Brainerd Council, said the Chamber wanted fresh eyes to look at what is now an old and persistent issue at in the Hamilton Place area. And an issue that's getting noticeably worse already.

"It used to be that traffic was bad about Christmas time," he said. "Now it's bad most of the time."

It's part of the double-edged sword that is progress. The area around Hamilton Place mall has enjoyed tremendous growth over the last 20 years, bringing jobs and a lucrative real estate and construction market.

And there's no reason to think the next 40 years will be any different.

Which means something will have to give or things are going to get hairy.

Vaden, Skelton and Yang propose a few options to accommodate the expected oncoming road woes.

Like adding lanes at high-traffic areas.

"The number one way to increase your service is to add a lane," said Vaden. Right turn only lanes, for instance, help by moving vehicles out of traffic if they're trying to go right, opening up two lanes for through traffic instead of one.

Trolleys could cut down on shop-to-shop traffic, carting shoppers around and taking their vehicles off the road, the students said.

Roundabouts are good alternatives for lower-trafficked intersections, said Vaden, because they don't force vehicles to stop and build up.

And "they cause people to think," he said, while removing the temptation of drivers to run red lights and put other drivers at risk.

Tuesday's crowd was mostly silent on those propositions but came alive as the trio of engineering students pitched the idea to put Gunbarrel Road's stop lights on a self-timing system, like the ones on Highway 153.

Rather than each stop light acting independently, all can be tied into one system and equipped with cameras to monitor when adjustments in light changes and sequence timing are needed.

A smarter light system could alleviate some congestion on its own then, said Vaden, Skelton and Yang. It would be the quickest fix, with likely the most immediate results.

And it would carry a price tag far below the estimated $150 million to complete all the other upgrades, not including land acquisition for road widening, they said.

It's an intimidating number, but the East Brainerd Council thinks by starting the conversation now, the city can get a head start on tackling the problems-to-be.

"It's always going to be a challenge to be able to keep up," said Rhea.

But he'll take this 40-year projection over the one he remembers facing two decades ago, when Chattanooga "was a city where people didn't want to be."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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