Small projects a big help for residents in Hamilton County

Small projects a big help for residents in Hamilton County

May 13th, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

East Brainerd residents have voiced concerns about the intersection of Ooltewah-Ringgold Road and East Brainerd Road, stating that it needs a solution to daily traffic back-ups.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Sitting on the porch of their Windstone home Friday, Nancy and Larry VanWassenhove speak about the difficulties area residents have with the intersection of Ooltewah-Ringgold Road and East Brainerd Road.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Sit in any Hamilton County finance committee meeting and you will quickly learn that most infrastructure and road work is routine business.

While the occasional $1.3 million price tag for W Road repairs makes waves through the community, turn lanes, traffic lights and other relatively inexpensive purchases are rubber-stamped without a fuss.

But to those directly affected, a $23,000 turn lane can mean a lot.

Hamilton County commissioners passed one such resolution last week that residents say could improve their quality of life.

Commissioners OK'd a contract increase with Volkert to design and add left turn lanes on the north- and southbound lanes of Ooltewah-Ringgold Road at East Brainerd Road -- where residents say morning and afternoon traffic has nearly reached critical mass.

Larry VanWassenhove and his wife, Nancy, live in Windstone, a neighborhood on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, just south of East Brainerd Road.

Since they moved in 27 years ago, much has changed, Larry VanWassenhove said.

"Nancy and I were the first residents in Windstone. We moved in the fall of 1986. ... I used to see about two cars going to work in the morning and coming home in the evening," VanWassenhove said.

Now the traffic situation is much different. So much so, the VanWassenhoves avoid Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, instead using a back entrance to their neighborhood that doesn't touch main roads.

"It's so busy up that way anymore due to the growth of the new schools. ... It's chaotic," he said.

When the VanWassenhoves first arrived, they were surrounded by rolling hills. Now there's a Bi-Lo south of the intersection, Westview Elementary School to the west and East Hamilton Middle-High School to the north.

Infrastructure simply hasn't caught up to the growth, VanWassenhove said. Developments shoot up, people move in but the roadways remain unchanged.

VanWassenhove says even a few turn lanes will improve things drastically -- but there's plenty more work left to do.

"It will help, but it's not going to be long ... before that intersection needs to be done properly," he said.

Richard Paryse, who has lived in Windstone since 1989, also said the turn lanes will improve his commute, but he called the work "a Band-Aid."

"It's way past due. The traffic is greatly increased," Paryse said.

He said if carpet industries return to Dalton in force and North Georgia grows, that will compound things. The intersection is a mile north of the state line.

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry, who represents the area, also said the project is overdue.

"That has been one of the most dangerous intersections in Hamilton County. There have been a number of accidents up there," Henry said.

A traffic light was installed as phase I of the project, but at the time, Henry said, the county didn't own the rights-of-way to make turn lanes.

The project is in the second design phase, and construction will likely start late this year, according to Todd Leamon, county public works administrator.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the project has taken time because traffic and environmental studies can slow the process.

"This is something that's been studied and talked about for a number of years. It is a state highway, and we've worked closely with the state of Tennessee to see this work done," Coppinger said.

Asked why infrastructure changes didn't happen before or during development in the area, Coppinger said the county has to follow growth to avoid wasting tax dollars.

"We have studies to predict these things, but it's always possible that the growth goes elsewhere. Then we'd be wasting money," Coppinger said.

While he's happy the lanes are going in, Larry VanWassenhove wonders what the next phase will be.

"This will be about the third change in the intersection. I want to know why they don't do it right the first time."

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.