Road worriers: Top complaint in Chattanooga is street conditions

Road worriers: Top complaint in Chattanooga is street conditions

August 20th, 2013 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Motorists in the 600 block of Boy Scout Road at Highway 153 deal with uneven pavement.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

POLL: Does the city spend enough on road maintenance?


2,309: Miles of roads within Chattanooga city limits

$2 billion: Cost of those roads


• 2013 - $1,788,000

• 2012 - $2,293,667

• 2011 - $1,576,000

• 2010 - $1,565,000

• 2009 - $1,888,000

• 2008 - $1,600,000

• 2007 - $1,750,000

Source: City of Chattanooga

A pothole is in the road near the intersection of Rossville Boulevard and Central Avenue.

A pothole is in the road near the...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

All roads lead somewhere. Chattanooga's tend to lead to complaints.

From St. Elmo to Rossville to Hixson and elsewhere come complaints about rough surfaces, potholes and broken pavement that take a toll on vehicles and can lead to costly repairs.

At Higgens Tire and Auto Services on Hixson Pike, Leslie Higgens said customers come into the shop with bent wheels and blowouts, some blaming potholes.

And little wonder. A public works update released in April found that the city spent less than one-third of the money the department says is needed for road maintenance and upkeep. As a result, critics say, some of our most heavily traveled roads are rated as poor or failing today -- parts of St. Elmo Avenue, McCallie Avenue, Central Avenue and Hixson Pike.

One resident who monitors a communitywide email list across St. Elmo likened local roads to those in a foreign country.

"The condition of the road[s] is like driving to Baghdad," said Jeffrey Cross.

As the City Council takes up Mayor Andy Berke's proposed budget today, Councilmen Ken Smith, Chip Henderson and Jerry Mitchell are calling for the city's road paving budget to be bolstered. They blame the lack of funding for today's poor road conditions.

At issue is how much money the city should devote to upkeep on its $2 billion investment in roads. Berke has proposed putting $1.7 million toward paving, the same amount budgeted last year.

That's not enough, the councilmen say. A public works study done in 2010 determined that the city needs to spend up to $5 million a year on paving. On average, the city has spent $1.8 million a year over the past 7 years.

"You can ride around town and you can tell we need to be putting more money in our roads," Henderson said.

While Berke has proposed funding for more bike lanes, lowering speed limits and adding more money to install speed bumps in neighborhoods, officials question whether the city should first fix the potholes and bumps in the road and further examine how to widen roads to keep up with the growing economy.

Councilmen said they met with Berke's staff and are discussing increasing the roads budget by a half-million to a million dollars.

"What I expect to see is the highest amount allocated [to road paving] in the last 10 years," said Smith.


Chattanooga resident Stacey Tarver said she's noticed that the roads leading into urban neighborhoods have some of the worst conditions.

As she filled up her gas tank at the Mapco off 20th Street, she pointed to the cracked road in front of her on 20th Street, explaining she's tired of trying to dodge large chunks of road like that.

"It takes a toll on your car," she said.


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Inspectors evaluate conditions of portions of city roads and assign them a Pavement Condition Index score. Road conditions are affected by climate, load, utility cuts and a number of other factors.

"Good" roads score between 81 and 100; "Fair" roads score between 51 and 80; "Poor" roads score between 21 and 50; "Failed" roads score betwen 0 and 20 (Streets in Chattanooga have 76 stretches identified as "failed").

Here is a sampling of some of the streets where some portion was ranked as "failed":

• Hoyt Street

• West Manning Street

• North Tuxedo Avenue

• Mission Avenue

• North Hawthorne Street

• Wiehl Street

• Hooker Road

• Watson Street

• Dugdale Street

• Druid Lane

• North Market Street

• Spears Avenue


The average condition of city roads in 2010 was 76, and dropped to 71 in 2012, city records show. Of Chattanooga's 2,309 miles of roads:

• 1,729 miles are local streets

• 320.4 miles are minor arterial streets

• 151.4 miles are collector streets

• 108.6 miles are principal arterial streets (for example, Amnicola Highway)

No road is labeled as "failed" in its entirety, but 76 stretches of road in Chattanooga that are beyond repaving and have to be rebuilt. And Public Works Director Lee Norris said that an update on the city's survey released in April found that the average condition of city roads declined from 2010 to 2012.

Norris said the city has a complex paving system that rates every Chattanooga road on a scale from 0 to 100, with 100 being the best. In a break from the way things used to be done, officials now prioritize paving for roads considered in fair condition and put the worst roads on a separate project list for future reconstruction.

That's because reconstructing a road costs 40 times the amount it takes to treat a road in fair condition, Norris said.

It costs the city about $1 per mile to treat a road that's in relatively good condition. But reconstructing a poor or failing road costs about $40 a mile. So with a $2 million budget the city could repave 284 miles of road but only reconstruct seven miles of road with the same money.

Since this model was adopted, Norris said, no additions have been made to the list of failed roads.

Smith, who heads the city's Transportation Committee, said bad roads don't just cause maintenance problems but also affect economic growth. When roads are in poor condition or the infrastructure can't handle the traffic it should, that eventually hurts businesses and development projects, Smith said.

Last week, city officials denied to approve a 260-unit apartment complex in East Brainerd that has been in the works since 2009, citing traffic complaints on Gunbarrel Road as one of the reasons for not supporting the project.

Berke's chief operating officer, Andrew Kean, said the mayor created a separate Transportation Department to take a larger look at how to improve the city's roads and to be strategic about where the city should spend more money to improve economic development.

During today's four-hour budget session, council members hope to have an increased budget for roads in their hands, but want to see this year as just the beginning of adding money to take care of Chattanooga's roads. Councilmen said they want eventually to see $5 million a year designated for fixing roads, but they couldn't say when that would happen.

"It's going to take awhile to get there," Henderson said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.