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I-75 construction: what's been done

Other improvements in Ooltewah widening project:

Redesign of Ooltewah interchange to improve traffic flow and safety.

New loop ramp to I-75 South for travelers on Lee Highway.

New traffic signals at I-75 ramps on Lee Highway.

Hunter and Mountain View roads moved farther west to allow more vehicles on Lee Highway.

Lanes added to Hunter and Mountain View roads near Lee Highway.

350 feet added to Lee Highway to allow for more vehicles.

Portions of Hilltop Drive, Hunter Road and Old Lee Highway relocated for I-75 widening.

New bridges over Wolftever Creek on Hunter Road and Old Lee Highway.

It's not clear whether Relocation Way was named as a joke, but the road hits Kathy Morrow a little too close to home. It runs halfway between Interstate 75 North and the place she manages and loves, Linda's Produce.

Packed inside a wooden cabin, the outdoor Ooltewah fruit stand sits near a freeway littered with dozens of orange barrels and ominous machines.

Ms. Morrow estimates all the barrel dodging and confusing lane changes cause hundreds of potential customers to breeze past Exit 11, which travelers must navigate to sift through bananas, tomatoes and grapes, to name a few.

In other words, a little too much driver relocation going on before people can spot Relocation Way on their way to the fruit stand.

"It can be a 45-minute trip to go five miles," Ms. Morrow said. "If my customers are coming from East Brainerd, they're not coming again. It'll be wonderful if this ever gets done."

Her wish may come true. Tennessee Department of Transportation officials estimate that the 2.3-mile long project could be finished by September, beating a state deadline by several months.

It couldn't come at a better time.

About 20,000 motorists per day negotiate the cramped exit ramp, state records show.

In the three years it has taken to widen the Ooltewah interchange and increase the number of lanes to four running each direction, the project's total cost also skyrocketed from $30 million to $52 million.

Several other improvements are part of the package, which TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said is "completely worth it."

"It will alleviate the pinch points. When it's over, I hope people will be very happy and drive safely and appreciate the project," she said

Back at the fruit stand, when Ms. Morrow was told a light at the end of the tunnel exists, she gripped a tomato and smiled.

"I hope the tunnel is very short," she said.

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