Crash tested: It's time for a safer Interstate 24 through Chattanooga

Crash tested: It's time for a safer Interstate 24 through Chattanooga

December 31st, 2013 in Opinion Times

A 20-car accident on Interstate 24 some years ago sent at least six people to area hospitals.

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

Areas where numerous wrecks have occurred on Interstate 24 in Chattanooga.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

Of the 10 most dangerous spots on all 180 miles of Interstate 24 in Tennessee, three are in downtown Chattanooga. And in those places, your chance of being in a crash is more than twice the state average.

It would be nice if Chattanoogans were surprised by this, but the truth is we're not. Of the three major routes in and out of Chattanooga, two are along I-24.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation's "antique design" characterization of I-24's steep and curvy track over Missionary Ridge and the ridiculously short entrance and exit ramps between Belvoir Avenue and South Moore Road is far too kind.

Combine those choke points with the immense tractor-trailer traffic in this city situated between the headquarters of two of the nation's largest trucking companies and you have -- plain and simple -- death and injury traps waiting to happen.

The Ridge cut, as the Missionary Ridge section of I-24 is known here, is difficult for truckers even if they are not speeding or dodging other impatient and distracted drivers. And often the distracted drivers are made that way by watching the massive spinning wheels of the trucks inch far too close to their cars.

The crash numbers come from an ongoing study of the I-24 corridor by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Judy Walton looked at the study and found that other danger spots are in neighboring Kimball and Monteagle. Of the other half of I-24's top 10 crash spots, four are in Davidson County and one is in Robertson County.

TDOT is using the results of the study, due Jan. 30, to decide what fixes might allow the 1960s-era highway to accommodate the transportation needs of today and tomorrow.

TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn told the Times Free Press that the short and combined acceleration/deceleration lanes in the Moore Road area and sharp curve at the bottom of the ridge cut would not meet today's road design standards.

"Were we to build a new interstate today in Chattanooga, it would likely be in another location entirely due to the tremendous historical significance of Missionary Ridge, along with the geographical and environmental challenges of the area," she said.

We'll have to wait a month to know if that's a hint of road construction to come.

But it's not a bad idea.