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Well Traveled U.S. 27 to Receive Long Overdue Improvements

Wed July 25, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

A short section of highway near Chattanooga, Tenn., has been due for a makeover for some time. This part of U.S. Highway 27 was originally constructed in the 1950s, the decade when work began on our current interstate highway system. As in many other regions of the country, traffic volumes and speeds have increased exponentially since then. Acceptable road conditions and highway and vehicle technology also have vastly improved over the years.

The section of U.S. 27 currently under construction goes from the P.R. Olgiati Bridge over the Tennessee River to SR 8/U.S. 127 (Signal Mountain Boulevard). The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) first began construction on this portion of U.S. 27 in the 1920s and completed it on April 27, 1928.

U.S. 27, a north-south highway, begins at Fort Wayne, Ind., and ends in Miami. The Chattanooga segment was first known as the Dixie Highway in the 1910s as a direct route between Michigan and Florida.

Ironically, the Dixie Highway, the predecessor to portions of U.S. 27, had its beginnings in Chattanooga. In 1914, Indianapolis bu.s.inessman Carl Fisher met in Chattanooga with other like-minded bu.s.inessmen who believed a route to promote development from the midwest to the south was needed. It was constructed and expanded from beginning in 1915 to 1927 when the federal government began to provide increasing funding for highways across the nation.

In the Chattanooga area, the route is referred to as Corridor J, a designation of the Appalachian Development Highway System. In Tennessee, U.S. 27 begins at I-24 and regionally goes through Soddy Daisy, Dayton, Rockwood, Harriman, Wartburg and Oneida to the Kentucky border.

The large commercial vehicles that now u.s.e this corridor need ample and efficient entry to the interstate without endangering drivers of much smaller vehicles. The general area has seen substantial population and bu.s.iness growth, and the existing highway system is not conducive to efficient movement of people and goods. The current roadway and bridges have served their purpose well, but they are reaching the extent of their u.s.eful life and improvements are needed.

This section of highway will be rebuilt to keep up with the area’s traffic demands. The widening of U.S. 27 to three lanes in each direction begins at Manufacturers Road. The Olgiati Bridge currently crosses over the Tennessee River and goes 1.62 mi. to SR 8, also known as Signal Mountain Boulevard.

Additional acceleration and deceleration lanes will be added in some areas which will improve traffic flow. The alignment for entering and exiting traffic will be improved substantially, resulting in a more efficient and safer roadway for vehicles regularly traveling this route. The completed project also will enhance traffic flow to and from the downtown Chattanooga and Red Bank areas as part of the master plan to reconstruct the U.S. 27 Corridor.

The completed roadway will have new high-mast lighting for better visibility through the bu.s.y section, and a new SmartWay ITS System (traffic cameras) will be included to assist with monitoring traffic incidents that may occur. When complete, the entry into downtown Chattanooga will be a much improved section of highway that will benefit all motorists and area residents.

The route itself has both a U.S. highway designation, 27 and is also Tennessee State Route 29 as it runs through both the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County. The job’s contractor, Wright Brothers Construction Company Inc., Charleston, Tenn., won the bid for the contract amount, totaling $102,528,639. At this time the project is slated to be completed by October 31, 2014.

Specifics of the project include the building of 30 retaining walls which will be constructed along this section of U.S. 27. The retaining walls will stabilize the steep slopes constructed in the 1950s and also serve to minimize the need for additional right-of-way acquisition.

The roadway bridges over Manufacturers Road, Manning Street, the Southern Railroad, Dayton Boulevard and Signal Mountain Boulevard will be reconstructed to the most current design standards. The roadway alignment and grade near the Dayton Boulevard interchange will be improved to flatten the horizontal curve and also to remove much of the vertical dip in that section of roadway.

The northbound entrance ramp to U.S.-27/SR-29 from Manufacturers Road will close temporarily for several months to totally reconstruct the new interchange, adjacent retaining walls, drainage and the extended acceleration lane. However, the northbound exit ramp from U.S.-27/SR-29 at Manufacturers Road will remain open for the duration of the project.

The Manning Street ramps will close permanently when the Manning Street Bridge widening begins. The Whitehall Road ramp to Cherokee Boulevard will close permanently when the construction for the realignment of Whitehall Road and the adjacent retaining wall begins.

The exit ramp to Dayton Boulevard will close temporarily when the existing bridge over Cherokee Boulevard is reconstructed. The interchange ramp will reopen when the bridge construction is completed. The exit ramp to Signal Mountain Boulevard will be detoured to a temporary exit ramp to allow reconstruction of the ramp bridge over Signal Mountain Boulevard. The ramp will reopen and traffic will be restored to an improved alignment when the bridge is complete.

The Signal Mountain Boulevard entrance ramp to southbound U.S. 27 will see some minor realignment of the existing traffic lanes but will remain open for the duration of the construction. The Dayton Boulevard entrance ramp will remain open, but traffic will be detoured to a temporary ramp during certain phases of construction. The Whitehall slip ramp to southbound U.S. 27 has already been closed and will not reopen. Also, entrance and exit ramps on Manning Street have been closed and will not reopen.

The Manufacturers Road ramps will be maintained for the life of construction. As with any construction project details may be modified as the construction progresses. Every effort will be made to maintain traffic flow and avoid ramp closures until it is absolutely necessary, according to TDOT. The department’s goal is to do whatever possible to keep accidents to a minimum.

To avoid problems during construction, two lanes will be maintained in each direction during the daylight hours. Lane restrictions, with few exceptions, will occur only at night to minimize inconvenience to the public. As part of the construction, variou.s. ramps will be closed, either temporarily or permanently. All ramp access will remain open until construction requires closure.

Since an astounding 73,000 vehicles u.s.e this portion of U.S. 27 on average, the more safety procedures and planning involved the better. The project also has a much higher price tag on it, according to TDOT. The reason for this is the large number of retaining walls and bridges necessary to construct this complex project. It is the most expensive TDOT project ever let in the 24-county Region Two area to date.

This project is funded with National Highway funds, which are 80 percent federal dollars and 20 percent state dollars. Becau.s.e of the project’s cost, this project was partially funded for construction in the FY 2010/2011 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and funding was completed in the FY 2011/2012 STIP.

The main contractor on this job has implemented a traffic configuration on U.S. 27 South at the bridge over Signal Mountain. Blvd. and permanent ramp closures on U.S. 27 South at Manning Street and Whitehall Road. Vehicles on U.S. 27 South now merge into one lane on the bridge over Signal Mtn. Blvd., while vehicles entering U.S. 27 South from Signal Mtn. Blvd. are a dedicated lane to access the corridor. Street has been permanently closed as well. Crews were currently working at night between the hours of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. installing concrete barrier walls and restriping the pavement as part of their traffic control on the project, as of the end of February 2012. They have also begun work on widening several bridges and building retaining walls along U.S. 27 South.

As with all construction projects, all work scheduling is weather permitting. At least one lane in each direction will remain open to traffic at all times. Also at the end of February, Wright Brothers implemented closures at the southbound outside lane of Dayton Boulevard. to add an additional turning lane. The majority of the work will be performed at the intersection of Dayton Boulevard. and Signal Mountain Boulevardd. The Tennessee Highway Patrol will assist with traffic control as necessary.

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