(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
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 continues to progress with an estimated completion date of August 2015.
Crews with Summers-Taylor, the project’s general contractor, and Jonesborough’s Southern Seeding have been working near the interchange on the east side of Tenn. 75/Bobby Hicks Highway, where the speed limit has been reduced to 60 mph and will remain at 60 mph until at least July 2015.
“The contractor has installed concrete barrier rail along the eastbound I-26 right shoulder for a work area on the bridge over Buckingham Road so that we can widen it for the extension of the acceleration lane for traffic headed to Johnson City,” said Mark Nagi, TDOT Region 1 community relations director.
Nagi said clearing is almost complete along this shoulder, and excavation will begin soon followed by construction of an acceleration lane extension and the bridge widening. Pilings for the foundation of the abutments are being driven in the ground, and additional concrete barrier rail has been placed prior to the exit ramp for eastbound I-26 so the new ramp and retaining wall construction can begin.
“Utility construction and the relocation of power poles have begun, and once this relocation is complete, then work on the retaining wall and abutments will pick up,” Nagi said. “Work on this portion will go through July, depending on the weather. Once this is complete, then the work on the first phase of the bridge will begin.”
Lane closures on I-26 will only be allowed at night between the hours of 7 and 6 the following morning, which will be scheduled at least a week prior, Nagi added.
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, beginning at Exit 13, runs from the Gray Fossil Museum to Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville.
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 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.
A pre-construction meeting was held Dec. 5, and an operational plan and construction work schedule was put into place at that time.
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 $300,000 in additional funding for lighting at the interchange will be paid for by the MTPO and the state. 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.