The long-awaited construction, which got underway in 2013, was selected as No. 6 among the year’s “Top 10 Newsmakers” by vote of the Cleveland Daily Banner news writers and editors.
Jennifer Flynn, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Region 2, said all the work on the ongoing project should be done by Nov. 15, 2015.
Flynn called the bridge widening “much needed” because of the ever-increasing traffic along the interstate and Exit 20’s location between Chattanooga and Knoxville. Backups several vehicles deep at the bridge’s traffic lights had not been uncommon due to the bridge only having two lanes in each direction.
The decision was eventually made to widen the bridge that crosses over the interstate at the exit to accommodate more traffic.
“Once the entire project is complete, the Exit 20 interchange will have a new, six-lane overpass bridge, improved entrance/exit ramps and a new traffic signal system,” Flynn said.
The bridge will then have three 12-foot lanes going in each direction, and all four ramps going to and from the interstate will have been rebuilt by the time things are finished.
The project began in August 2013 after the Cleveland-based Simpson Construction Co. offered the lowest bid — $12.8 million.
Since then, the company has been working on the first phase of the project, which has included setting the bridge’s beams. Soon, workers will also begin working on the surface of the part of the bridge that has the new beams.
Flynn said workers have also been doing drainage, utility, grading and clearing work throughout the project to make way for things like the new traffic lights.
Bart Borden, vice president of the Cleveland Utilities Electric Division, said before construction began the company designed new patterns to be used at the traffic controller at the southbound ramp of Exit 20 during construction, to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible. Still, he warned that some bottlenecks could still take place around the bridge.
“Motorists should seek alternative routes, if possible,” Borden said.
Some lane closures have had to take place as a result of the project. As of mid-December, APD-40 South had been reduced to one lane.
Simpson Construction Co. Vice President Larry Eskew said in September that, while drivers will not see any major changes during the early months of construction, he expects drivers will see more traffic as the bridge nears its completion date.
“At some point, there’s a good chance the traffic problems that are there now will get worse before [they get] better,” he said. “Everybody wants to keep that to a minimum, especially us.”
Though the predictions about worse-than-usual traffic around the exit have proven to be valid, Flynn said TDOT has “not really had any complaints” about it. She said that was likely because people driving through the area have seen that the in-progress construction as a necessity.
After the bridge goes from two lanes to six, Flynn said she expects some of the traffic problems to become a thing of the past.
As the construction has continued, TDOT has also limited the hours during which workers can close the bridge if they need to do so. It can only be closed between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday so drivers will still be able to use the bridge during weekday rush hours and on weekend nights. Construction has also halted for holidays like Labor Day.
Though there is still quite a bit of time that has to pass before November 2015, Flynn estimated 15 percent of the necessary work has been completed.
“It doesn’t get much more on schedule than that,” Flynn said. “We’re looking forward to the project’s completion.”