U.S. Highway 27 improvement project through downtown Chattanooga delayed

Completion of construction now slated for fall 2020

The familiar AT&T Field is seen, top right, as southbound U.S. Highway 27 traffic exits onto the Fourth and Sixth Street ramp coming from Red Bank. TDOT says contractor for the U.S. 27 Improvement Project is requesting a time extension as the project is behind schedule in downtown Chattanooga.

The U.S. Highway 27 improvement project through downtown Chattanooga will miss its January 2020 completion date and won't be finished until late summer in the wake of a request from the contractor for an extension.

A request from Jackson, Tennessee-based Dement Construction Co. for an additional 204 calendar days was submitted to the Tennessee Department of Transportation earlier this month.

"The downtown project on U.S. 27 to I-24 will not be completed in January as we anticipated," TDOT Region 2 director and assistant chief engineer Joe Deering said Monday at a news conference on the extension request.

Dement cited traffic phasing, weather and unforeseen issues related to one retaining wall, Deering said.

"We're working with the contractor on what we call a schedule recovery," he said. "We've been working with him really intensely for the past four or five months."

TDOT also has a third party monitoring the contractor's progress on a weekly basis and actively assist in schedule recovery, officials said in a statement.

The contract includes damages in the amount of $3,200 per day for any portion of the work that remains incomplete beyond the Jan. 28, 2020, completion date, officials said. The requested 204-day extension comes up about a month short of the first day of fall on Sept. 22, 2020.

"Issues beyond the control of the contractor can be grounds for a time extension however," the TDOT release states.

"TDOT is evaluating the request for a time extension and a determination and any potential damages due from Dement Construction will be made," officials said in the release.

TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said in an email that the state agency will provide Dement with a response in early January after a cursory review of the request.

Dement Construction officials could not be reached Monday for comment. The company appears to be closed for the holidays.

"If not fully denied, then additional information may be requested, or further negotiations may take place to come to some final agreement," Flynn said.

The original price tag was around $80 million as project activities began ramping up in 2011 and 2012 and had increased to $126 million as the work started in late 2015, while its sibling project north of the Olgiati wrapped up. The original completion date was July 31 of this year, but that was kicked ahead to the current date after a change order arose that was not in Dement's control, Deering said.

By the numbers

* The original price tag was around $80 million as project activities began ramping up in 2011 and 2012.* The price tag had increased to $126 million as the work started in late 2015.* The price tag now stands at $143.2 million as the project creeps into its fifth year.

The price tag has also climbed and now stands at $143.2 million as the project creeps into its fifth year.

It's not at all uncommon for the state to seek damages in delayed projects, Deering said, and the idea behind damage stipulations in contracts is to keep contractors on schedule.

The project was having problems in summer 2018 when the contractor encountered "10 times more rock than estimated" during construction of the largest wall involved in the project, TDOT officials said at the time. There were also more underground voids discovered than were originally estimated and other surprises lurked in other areas.

Funding to pay for the rising cost is borne by the state and federal governments.

The original construction of the piece of Highway 27 that runs through downtown harks back to the 1950s and 1960s. Over the past half century, traffic volume has increased exponentially. The section's winding design has contributed to crashes and daily backups that helped make the Highway 27-Interstate 24 interchange the worst in Tennessee and one of the nation's worst commercial truck bottlenecks, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.

Flynn said when crews resume work after the holiday break, activities will continue on several retaining walls, drainage systems, and roadway and ramp excavations and fills. Once that work is completed, crews will begin paving with asphalt and concrete, she said.

Deering said downtown commuters will also start seeing more open lanes in spring as the project finally begins to take its final shape.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.