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A $40 million road project will mean the biggest changes in decades for motorists exiting Interstate 24 to Chattanooga's Southside and Lookout Mountain.
State transportation planners are eyeing a wider eastbound exit lane, a new ramp into the Southside and a connector road to simpler interchanges at South Broad, Williams and Market streets.
"It will open up the Southside," Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.
Mike Mallen, a Chattanooga businessman whose group is trying to redevelop the former U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry sites off south Broad, termed the plan "a game-changer for Southside access" and for the Lookout Mountain attractions.
"It will make it easier to get around the Southside," he said.
TDOT is doing preliminary engineering and design work, Flynn said. Some $3.7 million has been approved for engineering, but the rest of the work will need funding. The agency is estimating $28 million for interstate widening and $9 million for the interchange work, she said.
"There hasn't been that much [traffic] work on that side of town," Flynn said. "It's going to be an improvement."
Mike Harrell, the South Broad Redevelopment Group's president, said the changes will be a catalyst for renewal.
"It's definitely I think something that's needed," he said, adding that South Broad alone carries about 20,000 vehicles daily.
Karen Baker, senior marketing director for Rock City and Ruby Falls, said the attractions draw people from across the country and simpler interchanges off I-24 from the west will help.
"It sounds like a great opportunity for us," she said.
Mallen said his group is providing 8 to 10 acres of property along I-24 for the project.
"Obviously, it opens up the gateway from the west right onto Broad Street and it gives interstate access from Broad to the foundry site," he said.
Flynn said the new, simplified interchanges will do away with many of the existing loops at South Broad, Williams and Market streets.
"Loops aren't a good design," she said. "It's old school."
Traffic signals will be put in at South Broad and Market under the plan, while Williams Street will get a traffic circle, Flynn said.
Williams, now a one-way street, will be turned into a two-lane road, she said. A portion of Long Street will be closed, Flynn said.
She said project planning could take another year or two, and TDOT still needs to secure right of way along the proposed changes. If the project is funded, construction could start in about three years, Flynn said.
Mallen said the plan should help find a master developer for the 141-acre U.S. Pipe/Wheland tract.
"Do you find a master developer and secure transportation infrastructure, or do you secure the infrastructure to find a master developer? TDOT has helped answer that question definitively," he said.
Harrell said Mallen's group has tried to be purposeful in terms of making the parcel mixed use and a gateway into Chattanooga.
"It's a critical piece," he said, also citing the planned extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk through the area to St. Elmo.
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.