Tennessee's transportation chief said Friday he'd like to see an $80 million artery connecting Interstate 75, Collegedale and East Brainerd Road finished in seven years.
"My goal is to get Phases 2 and 3 built as rapidly as possible," John Schroer, the state commissioner of transportation, said about the seven-mile project.
The first five-lane, $9.6 million leg, called the Apison Pike Connector, opened to traffic Friday. It links I-75 and College-dale.
A McKee Foods Corp. official lauded the new east-west connector, saying it will shorten trips from its Collegedale plant to the interstate, save fuel and improve safety.
Mike Gloekler, a spokesman for the snack food maker, said the connector will save six miles on some trips by its trucking fleet. With fuel prices spiking, the savings are sizable, he said.
Next up for the state is widening Apison Pike to five lanes to Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, which could cost about $27 million, according to the state. That work could start in early 2014.
Then, continuing to widen the road, called state Route 317, would be carried out to East Brainerd Road, estimated at costing about $42 million, officials said. Work could begin on this leg in 2016.
The new half-mile connector that opened Friday ties into Volkswagen Drive on the opposite side of I-75 and improves access to Enterprise South industrial park, said state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga.
"It's another huge asset," he said about the road that was finished on time.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the new road opens opportunities for growth in the area. Hotels and restaurants have been mentioned for parcels near the exit 9 interchange.
Hamilton County Commissioner Chester Bankston said the new connector will ease congestion in the area.
"It frees up traffic," he said.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield termed the road "a new gateway for Chattanooga and Collegedale."
Schroer said the connector is "an important road ... a first step. We know this is a growth market and we know things are happening."