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Changes planned for I-26 exit in anticipation of Gray growth

Rex Barber • Jul 9, 2012 at 9:01 PM

Interstate 26’s Exit 13 will be changed in a few years to improve safety and better handle the anticipated growth of the Gray community, state and local officials said Monday.

Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer announced in a news conference at the exit Monday morning the project to improve traffic flow at the interchange by adding dual turn lanes and a new exit ramp should go out for bid in the first part of 2013. Construction should begin next summer.

The $12.3 million project would likely take two years to complete once it is started. This project has been in the planning stages for years and was first announced in summer 2010.

“Obviously, this is something that’s created a lot of issues in this area for many, many years,” Schroer said of the congestion often seen at the Exit 13 interchange. Schroer was touring TDOT projects.

According to TDOT, an average of 21,800 vehicles travel along Tenn. Highway 75 each day. Exit 13 provides access to and departure from Highway 75. This section of Interstate 26 has about 56,000 vehicles per day on it.

Traffic heading to Highway 75 often queues up on the Exit 13 ramps and presents a safety and operational hazard, said Steven M. Borden, TDOT regional director. The new design will essentially add dual access and exit lanes to the interchange. The bridge spanning the interstate will also be given more lanes to handle more traffic capacity.

A new ramp will be constructed for traffic on I-26 east turning right onto Highway 75, also known as Bobby Hicks Highway. This road leads to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport to the east and East Tennessee State University’s Gray Fossil Site and Daniel Boone High School to the west.

“There’s a lot of work going on here and it’s going to greatly improve traffic flow,” Borden said.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said at the news conference the new interchange would be similar to the I-26 North State of Franklin exit a few miles away.

“Look at the State of Franklin interchange,” Crowe said. “This can be that same sort of effect, and we’re proud of that.”

Borden said the project’s planners are anticipating urban growth in Gray along Tenn. Highway 75 in designing the new interchange, which he said would be able to handle much more traffic than currently uses the interchange.

“Obviously you’re going to have growth in number of people who live here, that work here, development along the corridor, so with that you are obviously going to see some additional growth in traffic volume,” Borden said.

State Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, who is up for re-election this year, said his vision for Gray involves more jobs created via hotels, convenience stores and factories that would benefit from a better-functioning interchange. He predicted all those things will be in place once Exit 13 is “fixed.”

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said the community of Gray is very close to the geographic center of Northeast Tennessee, and with TDOT improvements to Tenn. Highway 75 toward Tri-Cities Regional Airport, ongoing improvements to Tenn. Highway 36, the Exit 13 interchange project and some proposed changes to Boones Creek Road the county will be positioned to attract investment and create jobs in the county.

In Washington County alone there are more than $105 million in committed road projects from TDOT. Each year TDOT has about $900 million in projects across the state.

“Our goal is to see that $100 million-plus ... that the state is investing in Washington County generate a good return,” Eldridge said.

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