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Work on U.S. 27 to Ease Demand on Area Roads

One section of U.S. Highway 27 was constructed years ago, but times have changed, populations grown and the demands on area highways exploded.

Wed March 05, 2014 - Southeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Work continues on a section of highway near Chattanooga, Tenn. This part of U.S. Highway 27 was constructed years ago, but times have changed, populations grown and the demands on area highways exploded. 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 first began construction on this portion of U.S. 27 in the 1920s and completed it on April 27, 1928.

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 goes through Soddy-Daisy, Dayton, Rockwood, Harriman, Wartburg and Oneida to the Kentucky border.

The large commercial vehicles that use this corridor need ample and efficient entry to the interstate and need to do so safely without endangering other drivers. 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 useful life and improvements are needed.

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. (2.6 km) 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 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.

“This is always balanced with construction schedule to complete the project on time,” said Jennifer A. Flynn, regional community relations officer of the Tennessee Department of Transportation. “Budget is another factor that must be monitored to assure that the balance of cost versus schedule is maintained to the best extent possible.”

The completed roadway will have new high-mast lighting for better visibility through the busy section, and a new Chattanooga 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. In short this will improve and update traffic conditions in this busy, congested area of the region.

The route itself has both a U.S. highway designation, 27 and also is 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., in Charleston, Tenn.,won the bid for the contract amount, totaling $102 million. At this time the project is slated for completion by Oct. 31. Work on this job starts at the Olgiati Bridge over the Tennessee River and ends at state Route 8 also known as Signal Mountain Boulevard.

Every project has unexpected issues and glitches arise, and this large urban project is no exception, according to Flynn.

“The issues were handled through the Request for Information (RFI) process and during regular project progress meetings. Everyone from the Department, the CEI, and the contractor worked cooperatively to resolve the issues within their responsibility in a timely manner,” said Flynn.

“I’d like to add, for those interested in whether things are on schedule that the project is still going as planned and getting completed. The project is still on schedule at the 80 percent construction completion mark. The key to the schedule success is the working cooperation developed early in the project to get resolutions to all issues as they surfaced.”

Fortunately all equipment that was needed was made readily available for the project.

“The operational status of the equipment was always good, and very little maintenance downtime have been evident,” said Flynn. “All of the equipment was important to complete the tasks at hand. The equipment, size, and number of pieces, adequately met the project needs.

“Rental cranes, with high lifting capacity or exceptional reach, were needed periodically to erect structural members primarily due to the contract phasing of some of the bridges and the room available due to current traffic patterns as well.”

The nature of this project makes it somewhat difficult to figure the average number of workers on the job, according to Flynn.

“With as many as 31 contractors working on the project, providing the construction for their particular assigned specialty, the number of workers varied significantly with current needs. At one high volume period, there were as many as 17 subcontractors working, with a total workforce of approximately 150 workers on the project.”

The weather played out fairly well with the project and its schedule. Weather is always a factor that presents a challenge, and the contractor constantly adjusted the work schedule and locations to accommodate it.

“The first year of the project was unusually wet, with well above average rainfall amounts,” said Flynn. “Addressing environmental concerns also constantly changed the priority of the workforce. Cooperative efforts by the Department, contractors, and CEI inspection teams to remain environmentally compliant kept the project moving forward to the extent possible.”

Concerns regarding area soil and human populations as well as wildlife traffic were considered as work progressed on the job. The pyritic soils in the area were known to be an issue as excavation began. However, all parties involved on the job worked together to address the soil and prevent delays.

Constructing and maintaining numerous construction entrances addressed tracking of soils onto the roadway during the extremely wet weather months. At one point, water trucks were utilized to wash tires prior to entering the open roadways.

“What we would most like to be realized about this particular job was that the cooperative efforts of all parties involved with this project has been primary to the success of the project to date,” said Flynn. “Also, the size and complexity of the project contributed to the dedication of everyone involved to maintain the schedule and keep the budget under control.

“When completed, the project will increase the capacity of this important section of U.S. 27 into downtown Chattanooga. In addition, the current standards incorporated into the design of the highway will greatly increase the safety for all traffic utilizing the highway by widening the through-lanes to three lanes in each direction, adding adequate shoulders thereby enhancing safety, adding acceleration and deceleration lanes to areas that have been deficient for years, and totally eliminating ramp access to cross roads and streets where current standards cannot be met.”

The high volume of traffic during rush hour should see significant improvement, especially the traffic entering and exiting Signal Mountain Road. The completed project should significantly improve travel times and safety for everyone passing through. The project is not yet complete, so a final cost cannot be established. Currently the project cost is $105.7 million.

Specifics of the project include building 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 serve to minimize the need for additional right-of-way acquisition. This route will be widened from two to three lanes in each direction. Ramp acceleration and deceleration lanes are slated for construction at the interchanges.

The entire stretch of upgraded highway will be 1.62 mi. long. The acceleration and deceleration lanes for the interchange ramps will be upgraded by lengthening the merge distance to and from the highway. With these improvements, traffic safety and efficiency through the area will be significantly better. 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 to remove much of the vertical dip in that section of roadway. This realignment will improve sight distance visibility, providing a safer “view-ahead” for motorists. New high-mast roadway lighting will be installed for better visibility. Also, new TDOT SmartWay (traffic cameras) will be included in the project.

The Manufacturers Road ramps have been maintained for the life of construction. As with any construction project details were somewhat modified as the construction progressed. Every effort has been made to maintain traffic flow and avoid ramp closures until it is absolutely necessary, according to Tennessee DOT. The department’s goal is to do whatever possible to keep accidents to a minimum.

When completed, this section of U.S. 27 will be a safer and more efficient for highway everyone.

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, various ramps were closed at times, either temporarily or permanently. All ramp access will remain open until construction requires closure. Since some 73,000 vehicles use this portion of U.S. 27 on average, the more safety procedures and planning were necessary. The project also has a much higher price tag on it, according to Tennessee DOT. The reason for this is the ample number of retaining walls and bridges needed to construct this complex project. It is the most expensive TDOT project ever let in the 24-county Region Two area to date, as explained by the state’s DOT.

This project is funded with national highway funds, which are 80 percent federal dollars and 20 percent state dollars. Because of the 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.

An unusual aspect to note about this job was that from 1988 to 1998, the Federal Highway Administration’s policy required the use of metric units in the Federal-aid highway program. This particular project was developed when the department was under the metric unit mandate.

Consequently, the project construction plans from which the contractor is constructing this project are in metric. If all goes as planned when the final completion of the development comes, hopefully there won’t be any missing lengths of pavement.

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