Motorists stuck Friday in Interstate 24 traffic through Chattanooga likely can blame its junction with U.S. Highway 27, a location that is the nation's 11th worst truck bottleneck, the latest research shows.
The I-24/U.S. 27 interchange is the worst in Tennessee and among nine sites in the state making the top 100 bottlenecks nationally, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.
Tennessee's standing is even worse than Georgia, which has seven of the top 100 — all in Atlanta. The I-285/I-85 interchange in Atlanta, dubbed "spaghetti junction" by travelers, was named the nation's worst for the third consecutive year.
Texas led all states with 11 of the worst 100 bottlenecks for 2018.
The data was revealed Friday at a meeting on infrastructure needs by the Thrive Regional Partnership, which looks at transportation, education and other issues across the 16-county, tri-state region around Chattanooga.
Connie Vaughan, Thrive's chairwoman and a McKee Foods Corp. official, said traffic congestion is an issue that comes up often in talks with people across the region.
WORST 11 BOTTLENECKS
City and location of the nation’s top truck bottlenecks for 2018:
1. Atlanta: I-285/I-85
2. Fort Lee, N.J.: I-95/SR 4
3. Chicago: I-290/I-90 and I-94
4. Atlanta: I-285/I-75
5. Los Angeles: SR 60/SR 57
6. Boston: I-95/1-90
7. Baltimore: I-695/I-70
8. Queens, N.Y.: I-495
9. Cincinnati: I-71/I-75
10. Louisville: I-65/I-64 and I-71
11. Chattanooga: I-24/U.S. 27
Source: American Transportation Research Institute
"I hope everyone leaves in a panic," she told a group of about 120 business and political leaders. "One of the things people said is: 'We don't want to be Atlanta or Nashville.'"
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said he's not surprised the I-24/U.S. 27 interchange ranked so badly on the national list. He's hopeful that work now going on will help relieve the problem on the interstate in addition to the planned reconstruction of the I-24/I-75 junction.
He said last year's passage of the IMPROVE Act by the Legislature that raised gas taxes to help fund 962 projects spread throughout the state will help Chattanooga.
But, the legislator said more work on I-24 from the Georgia-Tennessee line into Chattanooga is needed to alleviate traffic snarls. He estimated that up to $1 billion in work may be needed.
Gardenhire said passage of an infrastructure bill by Congress would help ease bottlenecks.
"They've got to do that quickly," he said. "It shouldn't be a partisan issue."
State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, said traffic can be "a nightmare" on I-24 from the I-59 intersection, and improvements are needed as the road moves into Chattanooga.
Use of IMPROVE Act funds at the I-24/I-75 interchange will help, he agreed, and the redesign will enable traffic to continue to flow freely, even while the new work is carried out.
Work on that interchange should start in spring 2019, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Rebecca Brewster, the American Trucking Research Institute president, said at the meeting that the nationwide cost of that congestion to the trucking industry was $63.4 billion a year.
Lost production was set at 996 million hours, she said, or the equivalent of 362,000 truck drivers sitting still for a year.
Meanwhile, more trucks are expected to come to the region as a result of the Appalachian Regional Port, a so-called "inland port" under construction on 42 acres in Murray County, Ga., on U.S. 411 just north of Crandall.
Shipping containers will be transferred from rail cars to semi trucks — and vice versa — after the port opens in October. The shipping containers will arrive in landlocked Murray County after a 388-mile trip by rail on CSX Transportation tracks from the Georgia Port Authority's Garden City Terminal, just northwest of Savannah.
While bringing more economic development to rural Murray County, some worry about increased traffic.
Tennessee State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, wondered about the truck traffic that will go into Southeast Tennessee from the inland port.
John Trent Sr., director of strategic operations and safety for the Georgia Ports Authority, said 25,000 to 35,000 "lifts" of containers between trains and trucks are expected in the first year. Trucks would take multiple routes, he said.
Trent estimated that up to 30 percent of the traffic would go north on U.S. 411, with many eventually traveling toward Cleveland, Tenn.
In four to five years, the number of container lifts could rise to 100,000 annually, he said.
Bridgett Massengill, Thrive's CEO, said plans are to convene three working groups to look at infrastructure issues over the next four months.
The aim, she said, is to come up with solutions for the region.
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.