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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 11/26/15. Motorists make their way along the section of Gunbarrel Road where it constricts from multiple lanes down to two.
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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 11/26/15. Motorists make their way along the section of Gunbarrel Road where it constricts from multiple lanes down to two.

Sharron Whittaker points to where a drunken driver crashed his car on Gunbarrel Road and burned to death in the wreck, just yards from the brick wall of her house on Summertown Court.

She points in the opposite direction, to where a woman in a wheelchair was run over and killed trying to cross North Gunbarrel's two lanes of packed traffic, where the roadside falls off to deep ditches and there's not a foot of sidewalk.

Whittaker and her husband, Nathan, have been in three wrecks trying to get out of their cul-de-sac, and her granddaughter was hit by a car while crossing the road. The fire hydrant in their yard has been knocked down three times. And rapid growth in the area is only making things worse.

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"Everything seems like Christmas here — traffic bumper to bumper every day," Nathan Whittaker said.

So don't ask the Whittakers whether Gunbarrel Road, north from Shallowford toward the Standifer Gap roundabout, needs fixing.

"That wagon-train trail out there?" Sharron points derisively to the two-lane blacktop.

"We've seen kids walk in mud and they had on tennis shoes. We've got little kids walking to Walgreens for candy, and we've got old people walking."

She wants a wider road — two lanes, plus a turn lane — with sidewalks. And not just any sidewalks.

"I don't want those skinny sidewalks, I want wide sidewalks," Whittaker said.

Come January, it's going to start to happen.

Chattanooga's Transportation Department and a developer are working jointly on a $1 million project to improve the road for people who live there and motorists who come in to work and shop.

Transportation Director Blythe Bailey said the city has worked closely with local residents to try to balance neighborhood needs with commercial growth in the northwest corner of Shallowford and Gunbarrel, home to hhgregg electronics and the Embassy Suites by Hilton.

"There are a lot of established and new neighborhoods. We've worked hard on the project to make sure there's sort of a right balance" of commercial and residential needs, Bailey said.

The project area is between Shallowford Road and just north of Min-Tom Road.

Starting at Shallowford, Gunbarrel will get a new right-turn lane. Heading north, McCutcheon Road will be realigned to match up with Summertown Court and Elam Road will be extended east to Gunbarrel. The two-lane section of Gunbarrel will be widened to allow for single lanes in each direction, plus a center turn lane up to Elam.

A rendering provided by the city shows "future apartments" north of McCutcheon and west of Gunbarrel, and a 10-foot-wide "shared use path" — like the Tennessee Riverwalk, big enough for walkers, bikers and others — and street trees fronting on Gunbarrel.

Bailey said the developer will be responsible for that part of the project.

He said the city is evaluating bids from three construction firms. City spokeswoman Lacie Stone said the bids were from Talley Construction, at under $970,000; Thomas Brothers Construction, at a bit over $1.3 million, and Wilson Construction, at slightly more than $1.4 million.

The recommended bid is to go before the City Council on Dec. 8. If a bid is accepted, work could start in January and should take six months, he said.

John Clemmer, electronics sales manager at hhgregg, hopes the improved access will help ease traffic, making it easier for customers to come and go.

"It'd be great for us," he said.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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