Crowd packs room for Bonny Oaks widening hearing

From one end to the other, folks who live and work along Bonny Oaks Drive agree on one thing: It desperately needs widening.

Many who had concerns about what that would mean for them turned out Thursday night for the first public design hearing on the project, held by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

More than 100 people met with TDOT personnel and representatives from consultant Volcker at the transportation department's offices on Cromwell Road to view giant maps of the proposed project and pore over engineering drawings.

At the west end of the corridor, Linda DeMarinis, president of the Villa Green homeowners association, wanted to know if TDOT can solve the flooding and erosion problem plaguing residents of the development at Bonny Oaks and Highway 153.

"It's bad over there," DeMarinis said.

At the east end, Becky Hansard with Silverdale Baptist Academy asked how planners will cope with school-related traffic.

On school days, she said, "We can easily have 1,000 cars coming in and out of that property, not to mention teenage drivers."

In the middle, William Petty wondered how the widening will affect his Canyon Drive home. There's a big tree in the front yard he's worried about, and bringing the wider road up to the current level is going to mean filling in along the existing road. He wonders whether that will make his ongoing flooding problems worse. Water already comes up to his house, he said.

"If it gains any worse, I'm going to be underwater," Petty said.

And Randy Shelly is aghast that the first phase of the project, from Interstate 75 to Bonnyshire Drive near the Army Reserve center, will end just short of his real estate brokerage business at the crown of the hill, funneling two lanes of westbound traffic into one just short of his driveway.

"It's already bad. It's going to get worse," he said. "You can wait 20 minutes to turn left out of here" during evening rush hour.

Plans call for widening the whole length of Bonny Oaks, from Highway 58 to I-75, to five lanes wide - two travel lanes plus a center turn lane on a 100-foot right of way centered on the existing road. Now there are just patches of wider road, between Highway 153 and Preservation Drive on the west end and Silverdale Road to I-75 on the east.

Robert Rodgers, with the local TDOT office, said the work will be done in four phases, with the Bonnyshire-to-Silverdale section first. Traffic will stay on the existing lanes while the new lanes, gutters and curbs are built to the south of the road, he said. Then the multi-use path will be built on the north side.

He said while one section is being built the state will be buying up the right of way for the next, so construction will be continuous. He expects the transportation department will ask for first-phase funding, from I-75 to Bonnyshire, in the upcoming budget year.

Plans call for a 10-foot-wide multi-use path - think Tennessee Riverwalk - on the north side, and a 5-foot sidewalk to the south, plus curbs and gutters along both sides.

It's a long-sought solution to traffic bottlenecks and frequent wrecks on a heavily traveled thoroughfare lined in many areas by drop-offs and ditches. Thanks to the presence of Volkswagen and it's suppliers, and the Amazon fulfillment center, what used to be the road less traveled is now chockablock with commuters.

And Bonny Oaks also will tie into the connector linking Highway 58 to I-75, now under construction.

"It's going to mean a lot of access for the people in that area," County Mayor Jim Coppinger said.

TDOT already is taking smaller steps to make traffic move more safely and efficiently. Work is ongoing to widen access lanes at Enterprise South industrial park and carve a new road from Highway 58 to the back of the VW supplier park that eventually will link to Interstate 75.

Chattanooga Councilman Russell Gilbert, who has pressed the local and state government for action on the long-needed project, attended the meeting and said he's hoping even the U.S. senators and congressmen will step forward to help, as they did with Volkswagen and other developments. He said his constituents aren't worried about losing property for the project.

"No one has asked me about property," he said. "They want it widened."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at or 423-757-6416.