CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:22 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, to correct the reference in the fourth paragraph to Northeast Alabama. A previous version had incorrectly stated Northeast Tennessee.
“We need to be moving quickly. This is an issue we've got to get concrete answers to.”
While the Chattanooga area has a reputation as "freight alley" due to its key trucking sector, a new study will look at how to make traffic flow more freely in the future.
"Freight is important. It's an incredible economic driver," said Bridgett Massengill, who heads the Thrive Regional Partnership in Chattanooga.
Thrive will work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which received the $250,000 Federal Highway Administration grant, Massengill said. The grant will be matched by regional transportation groups and provide a total of $322,500 for the work, she said.
The study will project freight volumes in the trucking, automotive and flooring industries across the 16-county region in Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama. Over the course of the next year, officials will examine regional needs and priorities and recommend solutions.
TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said the Chattanooga region and Tennessee are home to vital freight corridors. She said the Federal Highway Administration named just four grant recipients to improve essential freight corridors nationally.
Flynn said the study "could provide more practical solutions for freight movement throughout the region ... and offer a model which could be duplicated to other states and regions."
Four years ago, a freight study by Cambridge Systematics ranked Chattanooga No. 1 among all metropolitan cities in the volume of freight moving through by truck, which are helping clog the city's interstates and slowing the delivery of products.
Massengill said Thrive will interview freight companies in the region and uncover issues they're having in moving goods.
"We need to be moving quickly. This is an issue we've got to get concrete answers to," she said, adding that Thrive is "the convening table and is the boots on the ground" for the Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama transportation departments.
Massengill said the study will eye how the Chattanooga area can be prepared as the freight sector continues to grow.
"It's important to the freight partners and citizens who are driving ... ," she said.
Last month, the state said the Interstate-75/Interstate-24 split gets an "F" in terms of traffic congestion. Despite plans to spend $132.5 million in an improvement project now underway, the state expects the interchange's congestion score to only rise to a "D" by 2040.
An estimated 124,000 vehicles a day travel the interchange which is known for its daily backups, outdated merge lanes and frequent crashes. Flynn said heavy construction will start in late fall and continue until project completion in the summer of 2021.
Massengill said the study also will look at the issue of truck parking. Because of federal requirements, truck drivers must pull over where they are when they reach limits behind the wheel, she said.
"If there's nowhere to park, they're sitting off interstates or ramps," Massengill said. "It isn't safe for drivers or people passing the trucks. We don't have a good inventory of public parking spaces for trucks."
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.