INFRASTRUCTURE NO. 12
(Editor's Note: This is the 12th in a two-week series exploring existing infrastructure and future needs in the Cleveland and Bradley County community.)
APD-40, the Cleveland bypass or just the bypass — while the U.S. Route 64 Bypass is known by several names, one thing is clear: On certain hours of the day, driving along the beltway which stretches from Exit 20 off Interstate 75 to 25th Street in Cleveland can feel like a racetrack.
During other hours, it can feel like a parking lot.
Despite the obvious need for a makeover, there are currently no plans for bringing the roadway up to speed.
“The Tennessee Department of Transportation does not have any improvement projects in development at this time for APD-40 in Bradley County,” TDOT Community Relations Officer Jennifer Flynn told the Cleveland Daily Banner.
The bypass is overseen by TDOT.
Although Tennessee State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland — who also serves as chairman of the House Transportation Committee — echoed Flynn’s response, he told the Banner he will issue a request for a transportation study of APD-40.
“I will bring it to the attention to [TDOT’s] Region 2,” he said.
Howell said he understands the travails of traveling the roadway.
“I go home that way,” he said. “Spring Place Road can be a little squirrelly,” adding that the Benton Pike and Overhead Bridge Road interchanges are also congested and tricky to navigate.
“Those catch my attention,” Howell said.
Completed in 1974, APD 40 has increasingly become a main artery for those who travel back and forth between Cleveland and Bradley County.
In addition, as more residents migrate to southern Bradley County and commercial businesses follow them, the roadway has become increasingly congested during rush hours, particularly on cramped exit ramps that are dotted along the way.
The Benton Pike off-ramp, perhaps the most notorious of those exits, is regularly the scene of bumper-to-bumper traffic as vehicles line up to exit the bypass.
A reader responding to a question on the Cleveland Daily Banner’s Facebook page described APD-40’s on-ramps as “scary,” while another complained the on-ramps are not long enough for vehicles to get up to speed as they enter the beltway.
Not only is the ramp’s lanes narrow, with little shoulder room, its current design barely accommodates the large sport utility vehicles that are commonplace on today’s roads.
Responding to a question posted on the Banner’s Facebook page soliciting opinions from local readers, Mike Liedl said APD-40’s on-ramps are inadequate.
“The on-ramps are not long enough for people to get up to speed; most people don’t know how to merge into traffic in the first place, and this just makes it worse,” he posted.
Another commenter, Maria Elena Riojas, said the ramps “are a bit scary.”
“You are either coming on and can’t get up to speed or you are getting off and have to [hit] your brakes to avoid slamming into the wall,” she wrote, referring to a concrete wall that runs along around a sharp curve drivers must negotiate when exiting the bypass.
Jonathon Dean Some wrote that “some of the exits and on-ramps are quite short and abrupt.”
Wayne Leamon said the merge lanes are not designed correctly.
“Most of them are way too short, and some have no length at all,” he wrote. “They go to the bypass and you have to stop to check for traffic. I have a concern about the clover at Hwy 64 and APD-40. It is not designed right. [Drivers] getting on and getting off seem to get in the way of each other at times and no one knows what to do.”
Shannon Ritzhaupt also wrote that the on- and off-ramps are too short, considering the speed one must reach while merging onto the bypass.
“It’s hard to get up to speed and merge in such a short distance,” the motorist wrote.
Adding to the congestion is the new Whirlpool plant, opened in 2012, which employs some 1,500 workers, many of whom use the Benton Pike ramp daily.
Further contributing to road congestion is Bradley County’s growth rate.
“According to a June 2009 study prepared by Long Engineering for the Tennessee Department of Transportation Project Planning Division, Bradley County’s population increased by 27% from 1990 to 2006,” according to TDOT.
The study also stated the route was “originally proposed and built to relieve congestion and divert commercial through traffic away from downtown Cleveland that increased as a result of industrial and residential growth.”
During the construction phase of the bypass, a Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration Environmental Statement from December 1971 predicted an increasing range of challenges the bypass would experience in the coming years.
“In the short-term, the primary benefits of the proposed bypass will be the relief of traffic circulation problems in Central Cleveland and local circulation problems caused by rush-hour industrial traffic near plants in East Cleveland,” the report stated. “More efficient movement of traffic will result in a short-term reduction of air pollution, vibration and noise nuisances of overall highway system operation. In the long-term, it can be expected that economic and population growth will wipe out these gains and that existing streets and the new bypass will become overcrowded.”
Greg Thomas, coordinator for the Cleveland Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said ramp improvements needed to be made to APD 40.
“There needs to be more of a modern design, as well as safety improvements,” he said.
While there has been discussion over the years regarding ramp improvements, Thomas said TDOT currently has no plans to address the issue.
“There is nothing indicating anything like that is on the horizon,” he said, adding that discussion regarding improving the Benton Pike intersection would be one of the first projects that would need to be addressed.
Howell said the IMPROVE Act is currently funding multiple projects in the region, with 15 bridges slated for improvements or replacements, as well as a road-widening project planned for U.S Highway 11 near Anatole Lane in Cleveland to Lauderdale Highway in Charleston, and an Ocoee River bridge construction project on U.S. Highway 64 in Polk County.
(Editor's Note: Cleveland Daily Banner staff writer Autumn Hughes contributed to this report.)