CLEVELAND, Tenn. — State and local officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting at the southbound off-ramp at Exit 20 on Interstate 75 on Tuesday to commemorate the overhaul of the interchange, which connects to APD-40 in southern Bradley County.
"This project will not only improve traffic flow at Exit 20, it will also make this area much safer and will benefit all motorists and area residents," Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said in his opening remarks.
The $12.9 million project called for replacing the exit's narrow two-lane overpass bridge with a new six-lane bridge, widening entrance and off ramps and improving the traffic signal system, TDOT officials said.
The extensive makeover, which began in August 2013 and encompassed 1.4 miles of roadway, was "substantially complete" by November 2015, according to Jennifer Flynn, regional community relations officer for the agency.
As part of the commemoration, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland read a Cleveland City Council resolution calling for the state Legislature "to name the entire interchange or a portion thereof" in honor of Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, in recognition of his lobbying efforts for the project.
The resolution notes Brooks' years of vigorous lobbying efforts for the exit makeover have earned him the affectionate name of "Mr. Exit 20."
Brooks explained the joke began when Schroer was welcomed to the governor's cabinet.
"I changed my name tag to 'Hello my name is Exit 20' because I didn't care that he didn't know what my name was — I cared that he knew what the need was," Brooks said.
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said the project's origins stretched back 17 years, when he and Rowland went to Nashville to explain to TDOT how two freight trucks could not pass on the bridge without the chance of scraping each other.
"It had to be fixed," said Davis, citing heavy commercial traffic numbers even then.
The Exit 20 makeover is part of a larger infrastructural investment in economic development, which involves the construction of a nearby APD-40 interchange that will connect a proposed industrial park to I-75, said Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown.
That interchange, named in honor of Rowland, is scheduled to be completed in October 2016, Schroer said.
Schroer also addressed future transportation plans and funding during the event, saying Tennessee has $6.1 billion in backlogged projects and another $5.3 billion in identified needs beyond that.
"Those projects won't be completed for a long time unless there is additional funding that's available to us to do this," Schroer said. "We're going to need some help in Nashville to get that done."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.