An Exit 20 construction update Thursday by Bart Borden, vice president of the Cleveland Utilities Electric Division, wasn’t what people wanted to hear ... but then again, it wasn’t unexpected.
To paraphrase the CU engineer’s report about the looming two-year construction project on Bradley County’s southern end at Interstate 75: Things will get worse ... maybe a lot worse ... before they get better.
CU traffic engineers are reworking the signal cycles and programming that allow access onto and egress from I-75; at least, during the height of construction — some of which is now underway. But even these changes will do only so much to ease traffic flow, Borden reported at Thursday’s formal session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.
The bottom line is this, and it’s coming from the people who understand Bradley County’s own “malfunction junction” better than anyone: “Motorists should seek alternative routes, if possible.”
In his report, Borden pointed out CU traffic engineers have developed a new programming feature for the traffic controller at the southbound exit ramp of Exit 20.
“The new phasing scheme causes the protected left-turn movement in the westbound movement to I-75 to be displayed twice in one cycle, while still maintaining coordination,” Borden explained. “This helps clear bridge traffic more efficiently. The current timing plan will run throughout the construction process.”
Cleveland’s own Simpson Construction Co. has already started preliminary work on the new bridge at Exit 20.
“You will notice signs, concrete barricades and shoulder work over the next few weeks,” Borden told the board. “Temporary traffic control measures will be implemented at different stages of the project.”
The CU Electric Division head, who has oversight over the work of the utility’s traffic coordination engineers, said some of the measures will be challenges, but he acknowledged they are necessary in order to accommodate the kind of heavy construction necessary for giving Exit 20 its total facelift.
“One [traffic control measure] will involve the closure of an eastbound lane of APD 40 where the northbound exit ramp terminates and merges with APD 40,” Borden said. “This will cause the free-flow right turn movement to be stop-controlled for a time. Signal timing adjustments may need to be implemented to keep traffic from backing out onto I-75.”
The CU administrator pointed out, “This will result in longer queues for the APD 40 traffic westbound toward I-75. During the two-year construction project, longer delays should be expected.”
And then he said it.
“Motorists should seek alternative routes, if possible.”
He acknowledged the two years of construction will create “bottlenecks” — although he didn’t describe them as being the mother of all bottlenecks. But he did seek help from any, and all, corners in getting the message out to the motoring public.
“We would appreciate any help from the media to communicate that,” Borden offered, his attention drifting briefly to the news media table in the Tom Wheeler Training Center.
In case “... motorists should seek alternative routes if possible” wasn’t a strong enough warning, Borden later told board members, and the public, “... avoid that [interchange] at all costs.”
“I’m sure we all anticipated with the start of construction on Exit 20 there would be some traffic issues,” Borden said.
Others have said it as well. Even state legislators who are members of the Bradley County delegation to the General Assembly have acknowledged the trials to motorists during construction. But they have tried to remain positive — as did Borden Thursday — by pointing to the big picture: a new Exit 20 interchange with a six-lane bridge that in two years’ time will have motorists asking their passengers as they cruise to and from the interstate, “... remember when?”
In other traffic reports by Borden:
- Cleveland Utilities has completed work at APD 40 and McGrady Drive which is a primary entrance into the Walmart South shopping center. The McGrady Drive approach now has a left-turn lane, left turn/straight shared lane and dual right-turn lanes.
“The dual right-turn lanes do not allow a turn on red, but they operate as an overlap staying green for two phases,” Borden said. “The intersection is now split-phased on the side streets, allowing a safer turn from Baldwin Street. All signal heads have been converted to LED and two approaches are now detected by Wavetronix radar.”
Wavetronix is the same type of radar technology now being used on the city’s largest intersection at 25th and Keith streets.
- Lee University has agreed to pay an estimated $17,950 to convert the existing wood poles and span wires to black steel poles with mast arms for the overhead caution signalization at the North Ocoee Street crosswalk. The request for bids has been sent out for the poles and equipment, Borden reported.
- New signs with LED flashers mounted into the signs were installed in both directions at the Inman Street railroad underpass, which has been the site of multiple accidents involving too-tall vehicles trying to squeeze under the too-short downtown passage.
“Due to the angle the bridge is in relative to the roadway, the signs had to be offset perpendicular to the road for the LEDs to be seen during the daytime,” Borden said. “Nothing from the supplier indicated this need for the design.”
Once mounting brackets were modified to achieve the proper offset angle to the bridge, the signs became much more visible during the day, even from Broad and Inman looking eastward, Borden explained.
However, even since the new signs went up, at least one RV has wedged itself under the bridge, Borden noted.