The ramp from eastbound Interstate 24 to South Broad Street on the Southside in downtown Chattanooga was set to open by August, but problems getting materials have delayed cement work.
The $32 million interchange improvement project on Friday was at 71.8% completion, Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Rae-Anne Bradley said in an email.
“Due to supply chain issues and material shortages, the concrete ramps and barrier walls took longer than expected to complete,” Bradley said.
In July, Bradley warned those problems were beginning to crop up.
The contractor, Charleston, Tennessee-based Wright Brothers Construction, still expects to complete the project by Aug. 31, 2023, and the price tag remains the same, she said. The project began in fall of 2020.
Wright Brothers now has tentatively set opening the ramp for late October, according to TDOT.
“However, this is not a milestone the contractor is required to meet by a certain time, so that date is subject to change,” she said.
Commuters headed east on I-24 toward Chattanooga as it rounds the Tennessee River’s Moccasin Bend can see the gleaming white, concrete off-ramp to the right leading over Chestnut Street to South Broad Street.
Running parallel to I-24, the new frontage road from there continues east to Market Street, where an on-ramp leads back onto the eastbound lanes of I-24 alongside Howard School, plan documents show.
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.
The modifications were needed because of high crash rates in the area where I-24’s eastbound lanes and North Broad Street diverge, as well as from South Market Street to the ramps for I-24’s eastbound lanes, according to TDOT.
In 2022, the intersection of I-24/U.S. 27 was ranked at No. 29 on the American Transportation Research Institute’s 100 worst freight bottlenecks in the U.S. The Interstate 75/I-24 interchange near the Georgia state line in Chattanooga — known as the split — ranked at No. 10.
Through the years, there were more and more vehicles as the interstate aged and the on- and off-ramps to I-24 and U.S. 27 to areas south of the city became outdated, according to TDOT.
Five decades ago, the area where the current project is was called the big scramble for its sprawling design.
Back then, 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 to go through East Ridge into Georgia. The traffic count in the area in 1966 had increased from 37,000 to 51,000 per day, Chattanooga Times Free Press 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.
“The south side of Chattanooga has been blighted since the closure of the U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site,” TDOT’s project information states.
Booming development on the Southside, including a new stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts, hastened the project. State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said in July that Southside development and the new stadium were the main drivers for the ramp and interchange work. TDOT maintained a more safety-oriented take on the project, saying it is intended to decrease congestion and improve traffic flow.
Barry White, president of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the ramp not being opened. Neighbors of the project might be getting tired of the orange barrels, but White said the new ramp will be a welcome change.
“I know everybody will appreciate it when it’s open, but they don’t have anything to miss right now because we don’t have it yet,” White said Friday in a phone interview. “For visitors looking to go to that side of Broad and up onto Lookout Mountain to our attractions there and St. Elmo there and the Incline, (the ramp) will make it much easier to have access — a better guest experience, if you will.”
In the days ahead, traffic will still be able to use the ramps to I-24 and US-27, but no through traffic will be allowed on Williams Street between West 21st Street and West 25th Street, according to TDOT. Crews will be working on new bridge construction, storm drainage structures and utility relocation. Chestnut Street is closed at the I-24 underpass and will remain closed until the construction of the bridge over Chestnut Street is complete. Signs and detour notices will be posted for these activities, officials said.
On Sept. 28, the contractor will close the inside lane on U.S. 27 East to the I-24 interchange. TDOT officials said the lane closure will take place from 9 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday.
When the eastbound ramp off I-24 to Broad Street is opened in October or afterward, Bradley warned drivers to take it easy until they’re familiar with the new design.
“When the new Broad Street ramp is opened, drivers are strongly encouraged to use caution and pay attention to posted signage,” she said. “It might take some time for drivers to become familiar with the new traffic pattern.”
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.