Work crews doing concrete repairs on Interstate 75 near Volkswagen Drive for the past month have reopened travel lanes in both directions just in time for Chattanooga folks headed to Knoxville on Thursday for the University of Tennessee's football season opener.
For game day on Rocky Top, there should be more Volunteer orange on the road to Neyland Stadium than barrels of a slightly different hue impeding the path, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
The Vols face the Ball State Cardinals, with set for 7 p.m.
"One of most significant projects currently under construction on the interstate in the Chattanooga area that had the most potential to affect game-day traffic was the extended lane closures on I-75 near Volkswagen Drive in Hamilton County," Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Rae-Anne Bradley said Tuesday in an email.
"For the past month, a 3-mile stretch of I-75 has been reduced to two lanes in each direction for repairs to the concrete roadway approaching the bridge over Friar Branch and Norfolk Southern railroad, diamond grinding to smooth out the roadway surface and other incidental work," Bradley said.
The extended closure was part of a larger concrete repair project through the area underway for the past several months, she said.
"But as of this morning, I-75 was fully reopened to traffic in both directions," she said Tuesday, "so drivers will not encounter daytime lane reductions when traveling through this area in route to the game on Thursday."
The concrete repair work is still incomplete, but Bradley said work crews shouldn't have to put any major lane closures in place as the repair project nears its November completion date.
Nearer the Vols' home in Knoxville, TDOT is taking steps to reduce traffic snags, according to TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi.
Due to the opener being played on Thursday, no temporary lane closures will be permitted on interstates in East Tennessee beginning at 6 a.m. Thursday, Nagi said Tuesday in an email. Nagi noted road closures in Northeast Tennessee could remain.
Meanwhile, any other daytime lane closures on state routes will not extend past 3 p.m. Thursday, he said.
Game day tips
Parking can be a nightmare, and it's not cheap, according to various websites offering travel tips for Vols games. If you haven't already nailed a spot down, get to Knoxville early -- hours ahead kickoff -- to search out parking. Some parking garages allow parking with no charge, but privately operated parking vendors charge varying rates.
On-campus parking is $40, cash-only, on campus at the UT Culinary Institute, and additional public parking options are available in nonuniversity, lots but be prepared to pay as much or more at some private lots.
Game-day campus parking opens at 1 p.m. Thursday, and no tailgate setups are allowed before that, according to information on the university's parking website. The city of Knoxville will convert its facilities to "special event parking" at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The downtown city parking garage on Main Avenue, the Dwight Kessel garage on State Street, the City-County Building parking garage and on the garage on Locust Street charge $20 to park. It's $10 to park at the Civic Coliseum, and free parking can be had at other lots on State Street and Market Square, according to university information. Go to bit.ly/UTPark22 for more parking options and information.
The city also has $25 game-day parking meters near campus that allow payment only with a credit card. City buses can take game-day visitors to the stadium from most sites. Gates to Neyland Stadium open at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Veteran fan tips
A little insider information can be helpful, too.
Longtime Volunteers fan Andy Smith, executive director of YCAP Boxing in Chattanooga, and his wife, Amber, make a special event out of Tennessee's midweek games when they appear on the schedule.
"My wife and I made it a tradition when they play the opener on Thursday night -- we go up on Wednesday," Smith said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Smith said he and Amber made reservations as soon as the game date was announced earlier this summer.
"We kind of make a 'date night' out of it," he said.
Smith said just as internet game-day knowledge implies, parking for Tennessee games is a big deal.
"Scope out the parking, and if I'm not mistaken, they've changed up the parking passes and they've gone up in price," he said of the new $40 campus parking price.
Those headed up strictly from the game should also remember Knoxville's rush hour traffic, Smith said.
"That Knoxville traffic, especially coming into West Knoxville, it seems like it's a problem every day -- it doesn't matter when you go," he said. "From Chattanooga, you need to leave at the latest 3 o'clock. You get much past that, you'll be sweating it.
"If you want to get in by kickoff, you need to be standing in line probably 30 minutes prior to the game, at least," he said. Fans who want time to check out festivities outside the stadium should try to get on-site an hour ahead of game time, according to Smith.
There are also off-campus locations in other areas of downtown Knoxville where fans can create their own tailgating experience, he said.
"If people out there tailgate, there's all kinds of stuff the university does around the stadium that's tailgating stuff," he said.
Smith said tailgating offerings can include games for children, cornhole games and food vendors. One of the main pregame events at Tennessee, the "Vol Walk," usually happens two or three hours prior to the game as the team makes its way to Neyland. To take part in those activities Thursday, Smith said fans need to get there early in the afternoon.
"The tailgate is kind of what you make it where you make it," he said.
A rookie Vol fan mistake is trying to take in items barred from the stadium, he said.
"Over the last several years, they've really tightened security up," he said. "They have that clear bag policy now, and sometimes people think they can bring other stuff in, but it all has to fit in that clear bag."
Smith's top tip for newbies: plan for rain. There's no rain forecast for game time, but Smith keeps his rain gear handy for every game he attends.
"Always be prepared for weather. We always have one of those little ponchos; it's literally the size of a wallet," he said. "And we always bring a change of clothes just in case."
Tennessee games are a longstanding tradition for the Smith family. He said he went to his first UT game as a young boy.
"I was a kid, probably 7 years old. My grandparents had season tickets and then my parents, and I grew up going to games with my parents," he said. "When I got married, my wife's a big football fan, so we just said, 'Let's do this.'"
Labor Day work halted
Labor Day weekend kicks off a day after Thursday's gridiron tilt in Knoxville, and all significant road construction projects will be halted for the holiday period, too, Bradley, the TDOT spokeswoman, said. Work crews will stop lane closures starting at noon Friday and continuing until 6 a.m. Tuesday, she said.
"This will provide maximum roadway capacity for motorists traveling during the busy Labor Day holiday," Bradley said.
Officials want to reduce traffic problems as much as possible for safety's sake.
"The Labor Day holiday is typically a busy travel time," TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley said Monday in a news release. "We want to ensure that the thousands of travelers using Tennessee's roadways during this period arrive at their destinations quickly and safely without being impeded by road construction delays."
Likewise, the Georgia Department of Transportation on Tuesday announced the suspension of lane closures on Georgia interstates and state routes beginning Friday at noon and continuing until 5 a.m. Tuesday.
While construction-related lane closures will be suspended, GDOT officials remind travelers to exercise caution as crews may still work near highways, and safety concerns may require some long-term lane closures to remain in place. Additionally, incident management, emergency or maintenance-related lane closures could become necessary at any time on any route, officials said.
GAME DAY WEATHER
Thursday’s forecast for the Tennessee’s football season opener against Ball State in Knoxville calls for a sunny sky and a high near 89, with a slight northeast wind around 5 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee. Temperatures should be in the low 80s at kickoff, and temperatures Thursday night are expected to drop into the upper 60s with no wind.