(Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
ELIZABETHTON — Work is continuing on the Gap Creek Highway project, which celebrated a milestone in January with one section, from Tenn. Highway 361 to Tester Road, opened on schedule. The project still has a year to go before it is completed, according to Mark Nagi, community relations officer for Region 1 of the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
The good news is that with the opening of that section, traffic is now permitted on the highway from the beginning of the project to the end.
”We opened the new connector portion which goes from the SR361 intersection to Tester Road,” Nagi said. “This section had been closed for the last year. Gap Creek Road is now open from the beginning of the project to the end of the project. Besides some temporary lane closures at times, most of the remaining construction will take place on the new alignment, which is off the existing roadway.”
The state’s decision to make the improvements to Gap Creek Highway came as a result of the heavy amount of traffic. A lot of that traffic is comprised of motorists taking a bypass around the heavier traffic in Elizabethton and the numerous traffic lights along U.S. 321 and U.S. 19E.
The old Gap Creek Highway was narrow and curvy. As traffic increased, the TDOT began to see the accident rate climb on the highway.
“The crash rate for the majority of the route exceeds the statewide average; with the expected growth rate in traffic, an increase in the crash rate on (the) existing, narrow road is inevitable,” Nagi said.
The state began working on the project several years ago. At the time it was also exploring the Northern Connector Project. While the Northern Connector project was hit with environmental problems and morphed into the SR 91 Project, the Gap Creek Project continued with its straighforward plan to make improvements to the existing road and provide for a new section of the highway.
The successful bidder on the project was Charles Blalock and Sons Inc. The current contract amount is $40,680,359.77.