A more than $14 million project aimed at keeping infrastructure improvements in step with growth at the Interstate 26/Tenn. Highway 75 interchange in Gray is picking up speed.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is nearing completion of a concrete barrier on the eastbound side of I/26 where it appears the initial phase of construction will start. The project’s estimated completion date is August 2015.
“A pre-construction meeting was held Dec. 5, and an operational plan and construction work schedule was put into place at that time,” said Mark Nagi, TDOT Region 1 community relations director. “The contractor is working on the clearing so that work can take place on the widening of the ramp and the bridge over Buckingham Road. We are waiting on some clearance from right-of-way before a new fence can be placed along the eastbound side of I-26 and SR75.”
For now, Elizabethton’s Summers-Taylor, the general contractor, plans on working along the slope of the interstate to start construction of the new off ramp prior to the interchange going eastbound, Nagi added.
On Wednesday, crews from both Summers-Taylor and Jonesborough’s Southern Seeding, were working near the interchange on the east side of Tenn. 75.
Summers-Taylor is clearing trees and brush, while the Jonesborough company is setting up silt fencing further down a slopping hill at the site which will catch sediment but let water drain through.
Motorists traveling either east or west will now notice orange “road work ahead” signs about one mile from the interchange, and larger, portable electric signs have been delivered to the location for future use to warn and direct travelers.
Traffic heading to Tenn. 75 often queues up on the Exit 13 ramps and presents a safety and operational hazard, according to TDOT and local officials. 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 Tenn. 75.
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. Tenn. 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.”
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.
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.