The $44 million road project that will create a four-lane thoroughfare from Johnson City to Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Blountville, is well under way, and motorists should be on their toes in the construction zone due to continually shifting traffic patterns.
That shifting will continue until the project’s scheduled May 31, 2013, completion.
The project begins in Johnson City at North Roan Street where it turns into the Kingsport Highway (Tenn. Highway 36) and intersects with Airport Road, or Tenn. Highway 75. From there, the contractor will progress northward into Sullivan County, turning the current two-lane road into a four lane while also making grading, drainage, paving and safety wall improvements.
New construction will end at the intersection of Tenn. 75 and Tenn. Highway 357 located at the entrance to TCRA, where it will be connected to a short stretch of existing four-lane road just south of the airport.
TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson said passengers should allow extra time to get to the airport if traveling on Tenn. 75 between Gray and Blountville.
Wilson posted the following on the TCRA website: “Daily road construction along with temporary slowdowns due to highway expansion work may affect your travel time in that area. Be aware of your flight departure time and try to leave a few minutes early when heading to the Airport. Airlines require passengers to be at the gate at least 30 minutes prior to departure.”
Elizabethton’s Summers-Taylor Inc. is the project’s general contractor, and it was the only company to submit a bid to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The company is the largest heavy and highway construction contractor in the tri-state region of Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina.
“So far, we’ve come pretty far along with clearing, bulldozing and grading on the west side of (Tenn.) 75,” said Rab Summers, Summers-Taylor president. “Most of what we’ve done is to prepare for the two lanes on that side. Over the next two years there will be portions of the project completed and we will shift periodically to different lanes. I would caution people that as we progress, there will be delays.”
Crews this week worked mainly within the first few miles from the project’s starting point. Some areas of the hillside are being blasted with explosives to break up the rock, which is being removed by dump trucks. Bulldozers also are at work and other equipment lines both sides of the road preparing to install power and water lines.
This is one of several projects in the works for that area.
The new bridge over the Holston River is just about finished. This was a separate $9.7 million project, though it is along the route to the airport. The old bridge spanning the Holston River on Tenn. 75 near Boone Dam was demolished in early April. It was originally built in 1936, and was brought down after the new five-lane bridge was completed.
In July 2010, after a request by the Johnson City Metropolitan Planning Organization and the urging of state Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, TDOT announced federal approval for a proposed project to improve the Interstate 26 interchange at Tenn. 75 in Gray. Construction is expected to begin soon.
The Federal Highway Administration approved a study showing the need for a project to improve access and safety at the interchange. During a three-year period, TDOT found there were 187 crashes in the area of Tenn. 75 and I-26. In addition, the current bridge on Tenn. 75 accommodates two travel lanes and will be over capacity before the 2030 planning horizon.
TDOT plans to widen the bridge on Tenn. 75 over I-26 from two lanes to four lanes with two 12-foot shoulders. The estimated $12 million project also will include a new off ramp from I-26 eastbound and other ramp modifications.