Next spring, home and business owners along Apison Pike are going to begin getting visits from state officials buying property for the long-awaited widening of Apison Pike from Old Lee Highway to Ooltewah-Ringgold Road.
Two years after that, crews will start turning a narrow, twisty blacktop into a four-lane parkway with a median, bike lanes and sidewalks. A "ballpark" estimate for the cost is $16 million, Tennessee Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Paul Degges said last week in Chattanooga.
It's the second of three phases in a project to open up the southeast corner of Hamilton County and improve transportation access for Collegedale's largest employer, McKee Foods.
"It's going to make a big difference out there," said 9th District County Commissioner Chester Bankston, who represents part of the area.
Phase I, a $7.2 million road from Interstate 75 to Apison Pike, is supposed to wind up in December, TDOT officials said.
"That's the critical piece for Little Debbie," Degges said. He told members of the Southeast Tennessee Political Action Committee that it was McKee Foods' request to state lawmakers a few years ago that brought the need to TDOT's notice.
The final leg, years down the road, will extend the four-lane from Ooltewah-Ringgold Road to East Brainerd Road.
In January, Bankston said he was unhappy with what he called the project's slow pace. But "it's going pretty good now," he said.
Construction is going to mean disruption for home and business owners along the route.
Resident Alex Malon said early plans for the four-lane would have taken about 60 of the 80 feet of land between his house on Branston Road and Apison Pike. When he and neighbors protested, he said, TDOT planners adjusted their drawings.
"I was surprised and happy they listened to our complaints," he said.
Malon said though he doesn't have problems with the road as it is, he knows the widening will benefit the community in the future. But TDOT's plans for four-foot shoulders that will accommodate bike lanes have him a little puzzled.
"I'd like to see all roads have bike lanes, but in all honesty I don't think two bike lanes are necessary," he said. "One should be enough, even if you have to cross the road to get to it."
J.B. Underwood, owner of the Exxon station at Apison Pike and Ooltewah-Georgetown Road, is resigned to losing property for the widening.
"We certainly need it," he said. "If you get here at certain times of the day, traffic's backed up over the hill. It'll help traffic flow.
"Would I wish I wasn't going to lose any property? Yeah, but it's just one of those things. You just do the best you can do with what's left," he said.