An $8.6 million, 1.2-mile improvement project underway on Ringgold Road in East Ridge will change the face of the town's western half from Kingwood Drive to McBrien Road.
"We're doing a multimodal project that cobbles together pieces of work," East Ridge City Manger Chris Dorsey said Friday in an interview at City Hall.
The project will install a 10-foot-wide shared path on the south side of Ringgold Road, a 5-foot sidewalk on the north side, along with new curbs, gutters and drainage structures, he said. The project will be finished by the end of June 2023, Dorsey said.
"For us, one of our biggest issues is stormwater, and that's about half the cost of the project," he said. The work will also provide more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly access through that part of Ringgold Road and improved entrances to properties along the way, Dorsey said.
Construction makes up about $6.5 million of the project, of which $3.1 million is funded by American Rescue Plan Act, passed last year by Democrats in Congress. The remainder of construction funds comes from the city's general fund and debt financing, Dorsey said.
Property acquisition was about $1.25 million of the cost, and design and production of specifications for bids made up the balance of the $8.6 million total project price tag, he said.
The work started more or less in the middle of town because drainage improvements had to be done at lower elevations before improvements could be made elsewhere at higher elevations, Dorsey said. Stormwater has to have somewhere to go before improvements can be made uphill, he noted.
Crews on Friday were using heavy equipment to excavate a foot or more deep into Ringgold Road - which is also U.S. Highway 41 - and the ground adjacent to the road to prepare for the shared path, curbs and gutter on the south side of East Ridge's main drag.
In many areas along Ringgold Road, there is little distinction between where the road edge ends and where parking lots begin. Dorsey said the project will make business entrances safer for drivers and pedestrians.
The project just started, and it's already affecting businesses, according to Melody Clark Smith, owner of Melodee's Diner at the western end of the project near the Kingwood Drive intersection on Ringgold Road.
Smith opened the restaurant three years ago.
"We were just bouncing back from COVID," she said Friday as few lunchtime customers made their way in. "We have hardly had any business this week."
Smith said customers are having a hard time figuring out how to get into and out of the parking lot and traffic backups block vehicles trying to exit her parking lot.
The town needs the improvements, she said, but progress is painful for folks in the project's path.
"I'm just glad they're finally doing something on this end of town," Smith said.
Dorsey said he knows the project is inconvenient for East Ridge businesses, but crews are striving to keep disruptions to a minimum.
The project will be done in four sections beginning with the current stretch on the south side of Ringgold Road between Kingwood Drive and the Walmart Market to the east, Dorsey said.
The second section of the project will go from the Walmart Market to McBrien Road on the south side of the road and will involve some design challenges where businesses such as the Checkers and Sonic Drive-In restaurants are very near the road, according to Dorsey.
From there, crews will move to the north side of Ringgold Road to build a sidewalk, curbs and gutters in two consecutive sections on that side between Ringgold and McBrien roads, Dorsey said.
East Ridge's work and maintenance responsibilities end at the edge of the roadway, which is a state-maintained federal highway, he said.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has a role in the project for inspections, TDOT spokeswoman Beth Emmons said Friday in an email.
"The department has a representative from a TDOT construction office do monthly inspections on these local programs projects," Emmons said. "The city of East Ridge has someone that they hire to be a full-time inspector on the project to make sure the contractor does their work to meet the required specifications."
Emmons said the TDOT inspection is a second check that looks at project progress and reviews the city inspector's paperwork related to work taking place to make sure it meets TDOT specifications.
Dorsey said similar work for other portions of Ringgold Road in each direction is in the pipeline, but the future projects aren't yet funded. The new Food City grocery store, not far from the project limits, has no sidewalk yet, but when the improvement effort swings past the new store, that will be part of plans to discuss with store officials.
The city is seeking more grants to fund the future phases of improvements, he said.