All the new asphalt, concrete and bridge piers taking form at the $132.6 million Interstate 75-Interstate 24 "Split" reconstruction project mean a big weekend shutdown of part of the interchange is coming.
A major temporary traffic shift starts Friday, Oct. 23, and ends Monday, Oct. 26. The work will have widespread impact on traffic in and around the Split, East Ridge and at the East Brainerd exit on I-75 that includes a 5-mile detour for some interstate drivers, Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson Jennifer Flynn said Tuesday.
"Even though this work will temporarily impact traffic, we are pleased that it is taking place," TDOT Region 2 Director Joe Deering said in an email. "The new traffic pattern will give the contractor access to areas of the interchange that had been off limits until now and allow work to continue on this important project."
Flynn said additional crews could even be called in to provide more personnel for the work.
"It's going to be 'all hands on deck,'" she said.
If you live anywhere near the Split, it might be a good weekend for an out-of-town trip or a stay-at-home project.
"During the weekend event, drivers will see a flurry of activity on the connections being made including earthwork, rock and asphalt deliveries and a lot of construction personnel and vehicles," Flynn said. "Additionally, TDOT and law enforcement personnel will be stationed throughout the project. Drivers are encouraged to pay close attention to conditions and obey all signage."
When the weekend work is finished, northbound traffic on I-75 headed for I-24 West will take a brand new connector over I-75 South, she said. A little work will remain for finishing up the ramp next summer.
The notorious I-75/I-24 Split is where more than 100,000 vehicles a day tackle the interchange known for its daily backups, outdated merge lanes and frequent crashes. The problems stem from the limitations of a design that goes back to the middle of the last century.
The interchange reconstruction project consists of widening existing roads and ramps, increasing the radius of ramps, reconfiguring I-75 entrance and exit ramps, shifting the interchange to the west and modifying the Tennessee Welcome Center area traffic circulation, according to TDOT.
The work includes new bridges for Spring Creek Road over I-24, as well as interstate bridges throughout the interchange area.
The Split is one of two Chattanooga area interchanges to make the list of the nation's 100 worst bottlenecks from the American Transportation Research Institute, the other interchange being I-24 to U.S. Highway 27 for downtown Chattanooga. Neither of the interchanges ended up in the national top 20, however. During a June 2017 project kickoff event, then-TDOT Commissioner John Schroer called the Split "about the worst interchange in the state of Tennessee."
Marietta, Georgia-based C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. is the contractor on the project.
Starting at 9 p.m. next Friday, the on-ramp from I-75 North to I-24 West will be closed and northbound I-75 traffic heading for I-24 West will have to continue north on I-75 to exit 3-A for East Brainerd Road and make a loop to get back on I-75 South to continue to I-24 West, Flynn said in a statement on the work. Signs will direct drivers.
Because of this work, traffic on East Brainerd Road and Hickory Valley Road will be altered a day before the interstate detour begins, according to officials.
In order for crews to install and remove the interstate detour, lane restrictions on East Brainerd and Hickory Valley roads will start 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, and continue until 6 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27, with all local traffic on East Brainerd Road shifted to the two westbound lanes while the eastbound lanes are closed to local traffic to form the interstate detour.
That means those traveling westbound East Brainerd Road — toward Brainerd Road — will have access to I-75 North only, and those traveling eastbound —toward Gunbarrel Road — will not have access to I-75 in either direction, Flynn said. Meanwhile, traffic on Hickory Valley Road headed toward East Brainerd Road can only turn right for the duration of the work period.
Don't get comfortable, East Ridge folks. That's not all.
The I-75 North on-ramps from Ringgold Road at exit 1 in East Ridge will be closed at 9 p.m. Oct. 23 until 6 a.m. Oct. 26, and traffic will be detoured to alternate routes to access either I-75 or I-24 at other locations outside the work area, according to TDOT. And, the Tennessee Welcome Center on I-75, between the I-75 North on-ramp at exit 1 and the interchange itself, will be closed for the duration of the work.
TDOT warns big rigs to take note that truck traffic will be prohibited from using the East Ridge tunnels on Ringgold Road west of the exit 1 interchange due to low-height restrictions, Flynn said. Law enforcement will patrol those areas throughout the weekend, she said.
Flynn urged motorists who frequently drive the split and residents living near the project to watch TDOT's video of the detour and lane closures to better understand the complicated traffic patterns, temporary closures and rerouting.
After the weekend closure, the contractor will continue with the demolition of retired bridges and ramps followed by building the remaining ramps, Welcome Center connections and bridges, according to TDOT.
The contractor is allowed three more closures of interstate-to-interstate ramps for the duration of the project. The use of those closures is at the discretion of the contractor, officials said.
What if it rains?
If bad weather delays the work, it will be rescheduled for the "first available weekend thereafter," Flynn said.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.