U.S. 27 beautification project split into two phases because of scarcity, costs of plants, trees

Smaller Fourth Street interchange to be done first

Contributed by Tennessee Department of Transportation / An architect's rendering in an overview of the Fourth Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard interchanges on U.S. Highway 27 in downtown Chattanooga designed by Ragan + Smith Associates shows the general concept of extensive landscaping plans.

Because the pandemic has limited plant availability and hiked nursery prices, the beautification project to top off the $143.3 million U.S. Highway 27 reconstruction project through downtown Chattanooga - dubbed the Gateway to Chattanooga project - is being split into two phases after bids were rejected in June.

"This is another COVID result," said W. Neil Thomas III of the nonprofit Tennessee Interstate Conservancy, one of a group of players in the planning for the work. "When this project went out for bids, the bids were very, very high - as a matter of fact, above budget - because of the scarcity of trees, bushes and flowers."

The original estimate for the work on the Fourth Street and M.L. King interchanges was about $2.2 million, he said Thursday in a phone interview, but plant availability had plummeted and prices were as much as double the expectations.