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On Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn., Robert Conway, left, and Ray Hembree from the Chattanooga Gas Company work to disconnect a gas line from one of two buildings on Carter Street scheduled for demolition to make way for a new exit. Construction on Highway 27 will reshape the way the downtown area connects to the freeway.
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New downtown exit coming to Carter Street

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If you ever take the Main Street exit into downtown from Highway 27, heads up: that won't be an option much longer.

As TDOT gets into its $126 million, multi-year expansion of a 2.3-mile stretch of Highway 27, the state agency soon will close the Main Street exit for good and replace it with a new off-ramp onto Carter Street at 13th Street.

The existing circular Main Street exit is no longer up to TDOT engineering standards.

"According to TDOT designers, the existing ramp to Main Street is too tight. We would not build a ramp that tight now," said Jennifer Flynn, TDOT spokeswoman.

So the state agency, starting in May, will begin construction on the new Carter Street ramp, and upon the ramp's completion, will close the Main Street exit.

The new Carter Street ramp — one of several new frontage roads and ramps to come — is scheduled to be finished by August of this year.

Already, two Carter Street properties — former locations of a dentist office and an insurance company — have been vacated and are under demolition to make way for the new ramp.

And a pair of properties immediately adjacent to the new ramp to the north on Carter are up for sale.

David DeVaney, a Chattanooga Realtor, represents one of the properties — at 1203 Carter St. — and he believes the new ramp will have a "dramatic" impact on local property values.

"Fortunes have been created by locations of exit ramps of interstates," he said.

DeVaney said the location of the new ramp makes it especially attractive for commercial space.

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"We believe it's almost like a new gateway to the city," he said.

The half-acre parcel DeVaney represents is listed for $840,000.

The parcel adjacent to the north, which includes six-tenths of an acre, is currently listed for $900,000.

DeVaney says combined, the two tracts would be an ideal spot for a new hotel.

"If you put the two sites together, you're going to have an ideal hotel site," he said.

That sounds just fine, said Mike Shuford, executive director of the Chattanooga Convention Center, which will be directly affected by the new Carter Street off-ramp.

Shuford said if he had the power to put anything on the two properties across from the Convention Center, it would be a hotel.

"That's one of our biggest hindrances, is having hotel rooms immediately adjacent or attached to the building," he said.

The Chattanooga Marriott Downtown — attached to the Convention Center — and the Staybridge Suites Chattanooga are already in the immediate vicinity.

But Shuford said from a convention standpoint, there's room for more.

"It would be a huge help," he said.

Shuford's big concern with the new Carter Street ramp is the potential truck traffic it will produce.

"It's a very narrow street between the Staybridge and the Convention Center," he said.

TDOT and city officials worked together on creating an alternate route for big trucks to deter them from using the new Carter Street ramp to enter downtown, but a solution could not be reached before the Highway 27 project was let to contract, according to Flynn.

She said state officials will monitor truck traffic when the new ramp opens "to ensure that truck traffic does not become a problem."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

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