The state's plan to revamp the Interstate 75/Interstate 24 interchange was the kick-off project as Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam held ceremonial IMPROVE Act signing events Monday across Tennessee's three grand divisions.
I-75 at the I-24 interchange — where traffic roared past the governor late Monday morning at the Hamilton County Welcome Center near Exit 1 in East Ridge — sees more than 100,000 vehicles a day and is notorious for its traffic jams.
Signing events this week are ceremonial. Haslam signed the legislation back in April.
Haslam said the act accomplishes three goals in enacting the largest tax cut in Tennessee history, funding a safe, reliable transportation network without debt, and providing more local money for local governments.
Here are some of the Chattanooga and regional projects Gov. Bill Haslam says will benefit under his IMPROVE Act:
* Interstate 24: Beginning at I-59 on the Georgia line, 10.3-mile project would widen I-24 to U.S. 27 in downtown Chattanooga. Estimated cost: $171.5 million.
* Rebuild interchange of I-75 and I-24 in Brainerd and East Ridge. Estimated cost: $65 million
* Upgrade interchanges on I-24 at Broad Street and Market Street to rework ramps and improve access from I-24 to the Southside. Estimated cost: $37 million.
* I-75: Interchange modification at Hamilton Place mall: $40 million.
* Work on six I-24 bridges, including over Rossville Boulevard ($6.2 million), eastbound lanes over Broad Street ($4.2 million), over old Southern Railway lines ($2.9 million), over Germantown Road ($3.2 million), over Central Avenue ($4.6 million) and Williams Street ($3 million).
* Widen Ooltewah-Ringgold Road from Apison Pike to East Brainerd Road. Estimated cost for the 4.4 mile project is $56.7 million.
* Widen Bonny Oaks Drive near Enterprise South from Industry Drive to Adamson Circle: $8.3 million. From Adamson Circle to west of Bonnyshire Drive: $20.7 million. From Bonnyshire Drive to I-75: $21.2 million.
* Bonny Oaks Drive bridge over Chickamauga Creek: $5.1 million.
* Rhea County: Widen eight miles of SR 30 from U.S. 27 to west of Tennessee River bridge. Estimated cost: $44.1 million.
* Polk County: Ocoee River Gorge bypass. Phase 1 is a 23-mile stretch costing an estimated $300 million; Phase 2 is a $200 million project involving 2.1 miles through mountainous terrain.
* Bradley County: Widen North Lee Highway from near Anatole Lane to SR 308 in Charleston: $36.8 million.
* Bradley County: Build truck climbing lane on southbound I-75 at White Oak Mountain: $18 million.
* Bradley County: Widen I-75 from Cleveland urban boundary to Bradley/McMinn county line: $26.2 million.
* Bradley County: Preliminary engineering for widening 8.8 miles of I-75 from exit 11 to exit 20. Includes a significant amount of work in Hamilton County. Estimated Cost: $95 million
* Marion County: Preliminary engineering for widening of U.S. Highway 64/72 between Kimball and Jasper. Estimated Cost: $28 million
*Sequatchie and Bledsoe counties: Preliminary engineering to address immediate issues on the highway, add improved signage, more visible pavement markings, guardrails and turn lanes where necessary on 17 miles of State Route 28 from Dunlap to Pikeville. Estimated Cost: $2 million
Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation
The long-awaited I-24 revamp project "went from being improved seven to 10 years from now to hopefully being started as part of fiscal '18 work," Haslam said.
"For Hamilton County, this means $600 million of projects," he said. "Also, in Hamilton County, it means $1 million in ongoing money every year to help with your county roads."
The project to revamp the "split" — estimated to cost $65 million, according to the IMPROVE Act project list — is part of infrastructure investments for 101 individual projects in 40 Tennessee counties, including several others in Hamilton County and surrounding counties.
IMPROVE funds will pay for preliminary engineering in the project that is taking a "design-build" approach to streamline planning and construction. That means the state will issue a request for proposals on the design and construction of the project, instead of the usual approach using state plans and advertising for construction companies to bid on building it.
The infamous traffic-jamming interchange is one of the most heavily traveled transportation routes in the nation, officials said.
"It's probably about the worst interchange in the state of Tennessee," said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer, who predicted during the governor's appearance that local folks and motorists will start seeing the improvements in the next 18 to 24 months.
The IMPROVE — Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy — Act is a "key piece of his 'NextTennessee' legislative agenda that delivers a safe, reliable and debt-free transportation network for the next generation of Tennesseans while providing the largest tax cut in state history and making Tennessee more competitive in recruiting manufacturing jobs," a release on the signing events states.
The act includes an associated tax hike on gas and diesel fuel — the first increase in 28 years — which goes into effect July 1.
"The IMPROVE Act puts money back in the pockets of all Tennesseans and has already helped us attract manufacturing jobs to Tennessee — all while putting us on the path to deliver nearly 1,000 road and bridge projects across the state," Haslam said in the statement. "The Tennessee we can be provides not only access to opportunity but the tools to be successful, good roads that take you to good jobs. IMPROVE is a conservative and responsible approach to build and sustain the state's economic growth and competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans."
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Reps. Barry Doss, R-Leoma, and Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, carried the legislation through the legislative process.
The act seeks to give business and industry more reasons to call Tennessee home and bring jobs to its people, Haslam said.
"The truth is, if you're a manufacturer before [the IMPROVE Act], tax-wise it was really cheaper to do business in other states," Haslam said. "We did not want that to happen."
Haslam said the IMPROVE Act cuts nearly $300 million in taxes next year and more than $500 million in taxes annually at full implementation, including a 20-percent decrease in the sales tax on groceries and a $113 million reduction in business taxes on manufacturers.
Almost 1,000 road and bridge projects across all 95 Tennessee counties will be delivered through a user-based approach of raising the gas tax by six cents and diesel tax by 10 cents, each over the next three years, officials said.
TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said the project's design will incorporate plans by the city of East Ridge for a redesign of the interchange and intersection at the entrance to Camp Jordan on Ringgold Road, adjacent to I-75 Exit 1.
She said a new, northbound I-75 entrance ramp from Exit 1 that swings behind the Welcome Center will be incorporated into planning.
The idea behind the IMPROVE Act isn't lost on the Collegedale-based manufacturer of Little Debbie snacks, whose trucks bearing the iconic logo can be seen passing through the interchange every day.
McKee Foods CFO Andy Lang told those at the event at the Hamilton County Welcome Center that the tax hikes on fuel were balanced by other changes in the state's tax code so investment in Tennessee isn't penalized by excise taxes.
"McKee Foods realizes that part of the act includes an increase in fuel taxes. With our distribution system, this will increase total fuel costs to McKee," Lang said. "Using these tax funds to improve and expand roads and bridges in Tennessee, however, is the right thing to do.
"It will be another key element in making the state a top choice to live and do business in," Lang said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.