Attention Chattanooga drivers and anyone looking to travel Interstate 24 the next two weekends: plan ahead, because it could be slow going.
For more than 50 consecutive hours this weekend and next — weather permitting — the contractor on the project to replace the interstate bridges on I-24 over Germantown Road will close the interstate in both directions starting the next two Friday nights, rerouting motorists around the work until early Monday when traffic is returned to its normal pattern by rush hour.
Wednesday's forecast looking toward this weekend calls for a 40% chance of scattered showers on Saturday and 10% Sunday but otherwise dry on two work days, according to WRCB-TV Channel 3's weather team. Activities will be rescheduled if it rains enough to interfere with the work on either weekend, officials said.
This weekend's closure will be the first of two as the interstate bridges above Germantown Road are reconstructed by crews that will demolish the old westbound spans and replace them with brand new concrete spans this weekend. They will perform the same work on the eastbound lanes starting next weekend on the night of April 23, Tennessee Department of Transportation Region II Director Joe Deering said at a Wednesday news conference.
"The first weekend, again, is April 16 and second for the westbound direction is April 23, and the detour will remain the same for both weekends," Deering said.
The process that contractor Bell & Associates Construction is using at the Germantown and the now-finished and opened Belvoir Avenue bridge replacement projects is called "Accelerated Bridge Construction," according to Deering. It requires short-term, total road closures to allow crews the space to do their jobs and the freedom to work around the clock.
"It will allow us with just these short closures, these weekend closures, to rebuild the two bridges," he said. Deering said similar projects have been completed recently in Nashville and Memphis, where the method sped those projects along.
Scott McKinney, project manager for Bell and Associates on the bridge work, said the company was engaged in the project at the design phase, "which is not typical, so I really think that's going to provide a lot of extra time for us to plan."
Rain could create a challenge if it happens, "but the weather for this weekend looks pretty good," McKinney said during Wednesday's news conference.
Deering pointed out that McKinney's company has already done a lot of work on-site to make pieces of the replacement spans, many of which can be secured in place after demolition is finished.
The Belvoir Avenue bridge over I-24 was closed April 20, 2020, when the contractor began constructing the new bridge as part of a larger $32.9 million project that also includes replacement of the bridges over Germantown Road. The bridge on Belvoir Avenue was reopened at the end of March, while the rest of the project is expected to be completed in August 2021, officials said.
Originally built in 1964, the bridges along I-24 at Germantown Road and Belvoir Avenue in downtown Chattanooga were found to have structural deterioration and deficiencies that needed to be addressed, according to an overview of the project.
The American Transportation Research Institute 2021 top 100 list of truck bottlenecks places Chattanooga's Interstate 75/Interstate 24 "Split" just north of the Tennessee-Georgia line at No. 7, nationally, while the interchange at I-24 and U.S. Highway 27 closer to downtown is ranked No. 53.
The Germantown Road bridge project lies between those two infamous traffic snags.
During each weekend closure, the work will focus on different sections of the project, TDOT spokesperson Jennifer Flynn said, but the interstate detour will remain the same for all closures. During the closures, traffic will be detoured off the interstate near Germantown Road, then back onto the interstate. At either end of the bridges, the interstate will be reduced from three to two lanes before all traffic is diverted onto the detour, she said.
When the detour begins at 9 p.m. Friday, all eastbound traffic will exit the interstate at Germantown Road — exit 183 — travel along South Terrace and return to I-24 using a temporary on-ramp.
All westbound I-24 traffic will exit the interstate using a temporary off-ramp, travel along North Terrace and return to the interstate using the existing on-ramp at Germantown Road.
There will be no access from local streets to the I-24 entrance and exit ramps along this stretch during the closures. Detour routes will be provided online and by way of overhead and portable message boards, according to TDOT.
In preparation for this weekend's closure on I-24, the traffic pattern on nearby local roads will be adjusted before the interstate closure, Flynn said. Those final adjustments will take place around 6 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Monday.
"Generally, Germantown Road will be closed to through traffic at Ringgold Road and Brainerd Road, only allowing local traffic. However, a detour has been set up for traffic that makes it to the bridge," she said.
I-24 will reopen with its normal traffic pattern at 6 a.m. Monday, officials said.
Weather depending, next weekend will be a repeat performance.
Bridge designs, differences
By now, Brainerd and East Ridge residents might have noticed that the open and operating Belvoir Avenue bridge over I-24 differs a bit from the Spring Creek Road bridge over I-24 that is part of the ongoing, $132.6 million "Split" project at I-24 and Interstate 75 interchange.
The Belvoir Avenue bridge, designed and built under a different contract that includes the Germantown bridge replacement jamming up traffic this weekend, has sidewalks on each side, black-painted chain-link fencing along the bridge rails to block objects from being tossed into interstate traffic and new traffic signals attached to aluminum poles on each end of the bridge that replace the traffic lights that were previously hanging from wires.
The interchange on Germantown will include new traffic signals at North Terrace and South Terrace, but as interstate bridges the spans will have no sidewalks or fencing, Flynn said.
"The pedestrian fencing on the Belvoir Avenue bridge is a newer TDOT design standard incorporated into the plans for the project," she said. "The I-75/I-24 interchange modification project was developed before the I-24 bridge replacement project, so the bridge railings are not the same design."
The "Split" project's Spring Creek bridges are complete to the point traffic was shifted to the new side while more work is coming, according to Flynn. Traffic signals are not part of the Spring Creek portion of the project but there will be some new features.
"TDOT did coordinate with the city [of Chattanooga] prior to the project for basic design requirements," she said. "When it is finished, the Spring Creek Road bridge will have two lanes in each direction, a left turn lane for northbound traffic, bicycle lanes in each direction and sidewalks in each direction."
Other bridges, future work
TDOT plans include replacing the other bridges spanning I-24 between East Ridge and Brainerd. The replacement of the bridges over I-24 at McBrien Road and Moore Road will take place during the future sister project of the interchange project, TDOT officials said.
Those future projects are still in development and haven't reached the contract development phase, Flynn said. TDOT will coordinate with local officials on the design of those bridges, "but at a minimum the layout will be similar to what is there now," she said.
Readers can find more information on the I-24 bridge replacement project and sign up for project updates here.
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