Chattanooga I-24 interchange project at Broad and Market streets on track for August 2023 finish

Contractor proposal trims project price tag by $69,000

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Construction of the Interstate 24/Broad and Market Streets interchange project continues as of March 11, 2022. According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the project aims to be completed by the end of August 2023.

Despite a waterlogged winter, the $32 million Interstate 24 at Broad and Market streets interchange project has continued into early 2022 without delays and even had a small cost reduction proposed by the contractor, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

"The contractor is currently working on grading and storm drainage for the new frontage road between Broad and Market streets," TDOT spokesperson Beth Emmons said in an emailed answer to questions about the project. "Work is nearly complete on the bridge for the new ramp over Chestnut Street and is well underway on an additional new bridge over the Tennessee Riverwalk and the Norfolk Southern Railroad."

Weather, though wet, hasn't been a serious problem for Charleston, Tennessee-based Wright Brothers Construction, which started the work in the fall of 2020, Emmons said.

"Weather and colder temperatures restrict certain activities for road construction, but our contractor has continued to make significant progress throughout the winter months on this contract," she said. "There are no known delays to the project completion date at this time."

Meanwhile, the contractor managed to trim costs slightly.

With the contract awarded at just under $32 million, the cost of the project now stands about $69,000 under budget, she said, with the savings being realized through a "value engineering proposal from the contractor."

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Earlier this year, the contractor implemented a change to the sequence of construction in an effort to work more efficiently and complete construction more quickly, Emmons said.

The term refers to a systemic, independent, multidisciplinary review process to provide recommendations for improving value and quality of the project at the lowest overall cost and shortening completion time, according to TDOT information on the analysis process.

In recent work the contractor progressed on several retaining walls along the route of the new frontage road that parallels I-24 to the south, Emmons said. The retaining walls are styled like the ones along U.S. Highway 27 downtown.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Let to contract: June 26, 2020.Contractor: Wright Brothers Construction Co.Bid price: $32 million.Estimated completion: August 2023.Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation

Patience helps

Crews on Thursday were ripping up portions of Williams Street to clear the way for the new frontage road where Comfort Inn owner Anand Patel has a view of the current work from about 100 feet away.

"They've closed that road for over a month now," Patel said Friday in a telephone interview. "They're talking about the road will probably be closed for the rest of the summer, too."

The last few years have been a struggle for the business, and the project isn't helping.

Patel bought the 91-room motel in 2019, he said, then the pandemic hit in 2020.

"That was a bad year for everybody, and we did OK in 2021, and then this construction started here at the end of the year," he said.

Patel sees a silver lining in a couple of years.

"Once it's done, it's going to be nice," he said, "because it's going to be easy in and out. That Williams Street was always a one-way street, and it's going to be a two-way street once everything is done."

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The frontage road will give traffic coming off of I-24 a straight shot to his motel from any direction and access to the city and its sights will be improved for motel guests, he said.

"It's going to be good for the future, so we just have to go forward and accept whatever comes," he said. "They are moving forward and working fast to get this stuff open."

Some relief might come a little sooner, according to TDOT.

"Later this year, the contractor will complete construction of the new off-ramp from I-24 westbound to Broad Street," Emmons said. "Once this new ramp opens, the existing loop ramps to Broad and Williams streets will be closed, and the final sections of the new frontage road will be built."

A long time coming

Travelers entering Chattanooga and rounding Moccasin Bend from the west on I-24 will see the new off-ramp work to the right. Bridges over the railway and Chestnut Street are bright patches of white concrete amid ongoing earthwork to provide the base for the new frontage road now being built between Chestnut and Broad streets and beyond as it continues east across Williams and Long streets toward Market Street where an on-ramp leads back onto the eastbound lanes of I-24.

Before I-24 was built in the 1960s, most travelers between Nashville and Atlanta used U.S. Highway 41 to get around the foot of Lookout Mountain and pass through Missionary Ridge via the Bachman Tubes tunnels heading through East Ridge into Georgia, according to Times Free Press archives.

The existing stretch of I-24 across Missionary Ridge toward Tiftonia that was under construction at the time also included considerable work to open other highways and streets - including widening projects on Brainerd Road and Dayton Pike in Chattanooga.

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The city at that time was considered a "distribution center" in the South because of all the road work to improve traffic flow and "bring a rising tide of tourists and pour millions of dollars into the economy here," the Chattanooga Times reported in January 1966 when the section of I-24 from Missionary Ridge to Lookout Mountain officially opened with ribbon-cutting ceremonies that reportedly drew about 2,000 people.

Then-Tennessee Gov. Frank Clement and local leaders viewed the four-lane stretch of asphalt as a major entrance to the Deep South at the time.

"We are here to dedicate a gateway. The opening of I-24 in Chattanooga will make this the true gateway to Florida," Clement said during the dedication event.

In the 1960s, the area where the current project is was called the "big scramble" for its sprawling design. The traffic count in the area in 1966 had increased from 37,000 to 51,000 per day, archives show.

Now the traffic count in the same area ranges between about 60,000 per day west of the city to well over 90,000 per day between Missionary Ridge and the U.S. 27 interchange, according to 2020 TDOT traffic data. Broad Street's traffic count data from 2021 was nearly 29,000 vehicles a day.

Over the years the interstate aged, traffic increased, the on- and off-ramps to I-24 and U.S. 27 to areas south of the city became outdated and the city's southern end declined.

"The south side of Chattanooga has been blighted since the closure of the U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site," TDOT's project information states.

Currently, the county and city are working with developers to revitalize the area, which would increase traffic flow.

Southside needs

The project aims to improve the safety and operation of the interstate, as well as provide improved access to U.S. 27, Broad and Market streets and other points on the south side of the city. When updated, the interchanges will accommodate current and future traffic demands, promote economic growth and support area redevelopment, according to TDOT project information.

The work will replace existing loops and ramps that serve the eastbound lanes of I-24 and U.S. 27 with a new, single ramp, serving exiting traffic from both the eastbound lanes of I-24 and the southbound lanes of U.S. 27 coming from downtown.

The new ramp between the old Wheland Foundry site and the Tennessee River will bridge over Chestnut Street and the Riverwalk at the old foundry site where detours are posted for motorists on Chestnut and for pedestrians and cyclists using the Riverwalk.

(READ MORE: As work on some Chattanooga interstate projects winds down, more coming down the highway)

The new ramp transitioning to a frontage road will have new traffic signals at Broad , Williams and Market streets, and traffic entering the eastbound lanes of I-24 from Chattanooga's Southside will use the frontage road to reach the interstate on a newly-built on-ramp near Howard School. School traffic will maintain access to Market Street and I-24 and 26th Street will not be affected, according to TDOT.

Along with the conversion to a two-way road for Williams Street, Long Street will be closed to all vehicle traffic and a cul-de-sac will be constructed to provide access to homes and businesses near the 25th Street intersection, according to TDOT. Existing loops and ramps serving westbound lanes of I-24 and northbound lanes of U.S. 27 - located north of I-24 in the same area - will have only minor adjustments and traffic flow will not be impacted.

"This project is progressing nicely and will improve the safety and operation of the interstate, as well as provide improved access to U.S. 27, Broad and Market streets, and the booming south side of the city," TDOT project manager David Wagner said Friday in an emailed statement.

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