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Should lanes be added to interstate in Johnson City?

Johnson City Press • Feb 18, 2018 at 8:15 AM

We were happy to see work completed in 2015 to improve Exit 13 at the Interstate 26/Tenn. Highway 75 interchange in Gray. It took Johnson City and Washington County officials many years of prodding to get the $14 million Gray interchange project approved by the state officials in Nashville.

And we were pleased earlier this month to hear state legislators promise the long-awaited diamond interchange at Exit 17 in Boones Creek will be completed over the next 18 months, although it’s troubling to learn that no state dollars have yet been appropriated for $12.3 million project. 

Meanwhile, work is winding down on a $3.6 million project to improve two I-26 interchanges in Johnson City. Crews are currently working to connect the on-ramp from Exit 23 — Main Street — eastbound on I-26 to the Exit 24 off-ramp at University Parkway.

Now is the time for the state to consider adding lanes to I-26 through Johnson City. Time and time again, city leaders have asked the state to add as many as four new lanes in some sections of I-26. TDOT officials have said traffic counts show additional lanes are not needed. State and local officials have also estimated the project could cost as much as $200 million.

Those traffic counts could be outdated. TDOT needs to do a comprehensive study of the traffic flow on I-26 during rush hour. And there are things other than reducing congestion that should be examined when talking about adding lanes to the interstate.

Would adding lanes improve safety? Would adding a dedicated high occupancy vehicle lane encourage more car pooling in the area?

Again, these are all questions state officials could answer if they do an updated traffic study of I-26 that goes beyond a simple traffic count.

TDOT has tried to be responsive to calls from Johnson City leaders to do more to improve safety on I-26. In 2009, TDOT began installing longitudinal cable barriers along both sides of the median of I-26 through Washington County. These flexible cable barriers help prevent cars from crossing over and colliding with oncoming traffic.

Cable barriers are less costly than the concrete walls and guardrails that Johnson City officials have asked TDOT to install along sections of I-26. Appropriate safety barriers are needed to prevent head-on crashes along narrow sections of the interstate that wind through the city.

While the cable barriers are welcomed, and do provide some help, they must be properly maintained. Too often, it is months before damaged sections of the cable barrier are repaired.

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