I-75 bottleneck at I-24 likely to continue until last new lanes complete

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Traffic backs up at the Interstate 75-Interstate 24 Interchange Improvement project just north of the Ringgold Road overpass in East Ridge on June 16, 2021. Vehicles on the right are moving down the on-ramp from Ringgold Road.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Traffic backs up at the Interstate 75-Interstate 24 Interchange Improvement project just north of the Ringgold Road overpass in East Ridge on June 16, 2021. Vehicles on the right are moving down the on-ramp from Ringgold Road.

If completion of the Interstate 75-Interstate 24 Interchange Improvement project near the Tennessee-Georgia state line is nearing completion, why is there still a daily backup for northbound traffic, often stretching miles into Georgia?

The Tennessee Department of Transportation says the same merge-fueled slowdown for northbound traffic on I-75 that always plagued traffic through the interchange will continue until construction of the last lanes is complete.

"While I-75 north and south are in their final alignments, additional lanes remain to be opened," TDOT spokesperson Jennifer Flynn said Wednesday. "There will be additional lanes opened for the entrance ramps from Ringgold Road and one additional lane on I-75 north."

Flynn said the new ramp from westbound Ringgold Road in East Ridge will eliminate the weaving of traffic between exit 1 and exit 2 for I-24 west.

"Once that ramp is opened - mid- to late-July - I-75 North traffic should flow much better," she said.

The project now is more than 90% complete and should be done by late summer.

Marietta, Georgia-based C.W. Matthews Contracting Co., is the contractor on the $133 million project, which started in spring 2019 and consists of widening existing roads and ramps, increasing the radius of ramps, reconfiguring entrance and exit ramps on I-75, shifting the interchange to the west and modifying the Tennessee Welcome Center area traffic circulation.

The project includes new bridges for Spring Creek Road over I-24, as well as interstate bridges throughout the interchange area.

During a 2017 project kickoff event, then-TDOT Commissioner John Schroer called the "Split," as it's known, "about the worst interchange in the state of Tennessee."

The Split is one of two Chattanooga area interchanges to make the list of the country's 100 worst bottlenecks from the American Transportation Research Institute, the other interchange being the one at I-24 and U.S. Highway 27.

The 2021 list shows the Split ranked at No. 7 among the worst bottlenecks in the U.S., followed by the one at I-24 and U.S. Highway 27 ranked nationally at No. 53.


1. Fort Lee, New Jersey: Interstate 95 at State Route 42. Cincinnati, Ohio: Interstate 71 and Interstate 753. Atlanta, Georgia: Interstate 285 at Interstate 85 North4. Atlanta, Georgia: Interstate 20 at I-85 West5. Houston, Texas: Interstate 45 at Interstate 69/U.S. 596. Chicago, Illinois: Interstate 290 at interstates 90 and 947. Chattanooga, Tennessee: I-75 at Interstate 248. St. Louis, Missouri: Interstates 64 and 55 at Interstate 449. Rye, New York: Interstate 95 at Interstate 28710. San Bernadino, California: Interstate 10 at Interstate 15Source: American Transportation Research Institute

Nationally, states with the highest number of Top 100 bottlenecks are, in descending order, Texas with 12, California and Washington with eight, Connecticut, Georgia and Pennsylvania with seven followed by Tennessee and New York with six, according to institute data. Nashville has four bottlenecks on the list ranked at 13, 35, 77 and 88.

Truckers are used to traffic challenges and don't complain too much, according to a local transportation company.

"The traffic pattern around Chattanooga has always been a challenge," Covenant Logistics spokesperson Doug Smith said Wednesday. "There's an anticipation that the project will help ease the flow, but we're not really seeing any complaints or anything from the drivers."

Smith said the company uses extensive communications so adjustments can be made between drivers, fleet managers and customers to avoid scheduling problems - whatever the traffic issues.

A view of traffic snarls greets the company's drivers and employees every day, Smith said.

"In front of our office on any given day at any time of day you can see a backup going either way on I-24," Smith said. "It's just like any other metro area, there's always work going on, and our drivers just kind of chalk it up to part of what they deal with every day."

Patience is a virtue for all drivers, Smith said.

Meanwhile, C.W. Matthews has been busy on bridge and ramp work this week, Flynn said.

"They are working on the Spring Creek Road bridge over I-24 east, placing concrete pavement for the new ramp from Ringgold Road and on I-75 north from Chickamauga Creek to the end of the project limits," she said. "They are also working on approach slabs for the last bridge over Spring Creek, placing asphalt paving at night and grading at various locations."

When it's all done, "all the ramps will be three lanes but they will taper down to fewer lanes to match the lanes on I-24 until Phase 2 is completed," she said.

Phase 2 of the Split improvement project is in Tennessee's updated Transportation Improvement Program plan for fiscal years 2022-2024 and will extend from the interchange westward on I-24 to the Belvoir Avenue bridge.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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