Johnson City Press Wednesday, September 3, 2014

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Big improvements coming to I-26/Highway 75 interchange

November 24th, 2013 9:21 pm by Gary B. Gray

Big improvements coming to I-26/Highway 75 interchange


Elizabethton’s Summers-Taylor has secured a nearly $14 million contract with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to complete a project aimed at keeping infrastructure improvements in step with growth at the Interstate 26/Tenn. Highway 75 interchange in Gray.


The company’s offer was about $500,000 under the only other bidder, Bell & Associates Construction, headquartered in Brentwood. 


A start date has not been established, but the estimated completion date is on or before Aug. 31, 2015. The pre-construction meeting for the project will be held Dec. 5. At that time, an operational plan and construction work schedule will be set, said Mark Nagi, TDOT Region 1 Community Relations director. 


In 2008, the Johnson City Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization identified the need to relieve vehicle congestion, improve safety and promote economic development at an interchange marked by area officials as a major Tri-Cities corridor. Highway 75, also identified as Bobby Hicks Highway and Exit 13, runs from the Gray Fossil Museum to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport. 


“We put it in our long-range transportation plan while prioritizing needed projects in the region, and this ranks at the very top,” said Glenn Berry, MTPO planning coordinator. “This is one of the fastest projects I’ve ever seen come together. The process usually takes much longer.”


The MTPO is comprised of Elizabethton, Jonesborough, Johnson City, the town of Unicoi, Carter County and Washington County, and is responsible for transportation planning of projects within the region.


In 2010, the Federal Highway Administration approved a study showing a need for the project. At the MTPO’s request, as well as the urging of former state Rep. Dale Ford, TDOT initiated an interchange modification study soon after, which confirmed the project’s necessity because of safety and traffic concerns.


But it’s no secret that substantial urban growth near the interchange and along the corridor is expected to bring with it new economic development and tax revenue. 


Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge has consistently said the community of Gray is very close to the geographic center of Northeast Tennessee, and with coming improvements, the county will be positioned to attract investment and create jobs. 


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 carries about 56,000 vehicles per day, TDOT said.


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 also will be constructed for traffic on I-26 east turning right onto Highway 75. 


Funding for construction came from the new National Highway Performance Program. The program was established under the new transportation act, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. TDOT will manage the project.


About $303,000 in additional funding for lighting at the interchange will be paid for by the MTPO and the state of Tennessee. MTPO is funding 80 percent, or about $242,000; the state will provide roughly $60,500. This includes a 10 percent contingency fund for engineering costs.


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