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Early work on I-75 widening between Cleveland and Ooltewah under way

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: Signs of the earliest work on the state's planned widening of Interstate 75 between Ooltewah and Cleveland ca

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: Signs of the earliest work on the state’s planned widening of Interstate 75 between Ooltewah and Cleveland can been seen on top of White Oak Mountain at the Hamilton-Bradley county line.


Drivers traveling the route can see the evidence where trails cut through the oak tree-covered ridge — small, one-lane truck paths heading straight up the side of the cut on the northbound side and similar paths on the southbound side that wind into the woods.


“The access roads were for geotechnical exploration and to inspect drainage structures, to determine if they’re in sufficient condition to be incorporated into the widening project or if they need to be replaced before we improve the roadway above,” Rae Anne Bradley, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, said in an email. “They will be stabilized upon completion of work.”

Crews recently put sod down on the access roads to regrow grass and prevent erosion.


The project area is just under 8.5 miles long, extending from just north of Ooltewah’s Exit 11 and Cleveland’s Exit 20, Bradley said, with the most complex work atop White Oak, where an additional truck climbing lane is planned for the southbound side to match the northbound one, and an additional lane will be added in each direction.


“Truck climbing lanes are designed to enable a slow stream of heavy vehicles in segments with a high road incline,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Research has shown the positive safety effects of these lanes as they separate slow traffic from non-slow traffic.

A veteran Cleveland commuter recently complained the morning traffic backup heading south into Chattanooga now starts on the approach to White Oak in Bradley County and only worsens from there.

“We slow down now going over White Oak … which used to never be a problem,” 53-year-old I-75 veteran John Thomas said by phone. “There’s no wreck, there’s just heavy traffic.”


Traffic on Chattanooga’s end of I-75 has grown so much it makes recent multimillion dollar improvements seem ineffective, Thomas said.


According to 2022 data on the state’s annual average daily traffic map, 63,355 vehicles per day travel the piece of I-75 between Cleveland and Ooltewah in each direction. Moving south toward Chattanooga, the count increases with each exit as more traffic enters until topping out at 129,430 vehicles per day between East Brainerd Road and the I-75/Interstate 24 split before falling back to 96,721 at the Georgia state line.


The widening project will boost connectivity in the region, said Republican state Rep. Greg Vital, vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee. He represents the portion of Hamilton County involved in the project.

“With the enormous growth we have in East Hamilton County and the connectivity we’re experiencing in Bradley County, it is long overdue, and we’re excited about it,” Vital said in a phone interview. “Anything that helps create connectivity through the city and between the surrounding counties is definitely advantageous.”


The work will also improve safety for motorists and the trucking industry, he said.


Widening I-75 will improve capacity for motorists by adding an additional lane between Ooltewah and Cleveland to better accommodate the growing traffic volumes as well as truck climbing lanes, Bradley said.


Other projects include a resurfacing project in Bradley County near Exit 20 and ramp and intersection improvements at Paul Huff Parkway, Bradley said. In addition to widening, the existing pavement will be resurfaced, and a wider inside shoulder will be constructed.


The project has not been funded, and more decisions will have to be made in the future, potentially breaking the project into segments, Bradley said.


Breaking larger projects into smaller phases allows the state to fund it as appropriations are approved, she said.


Long-range plans


It’s all in the big plan, according to transportation officials, but Tennessee is a pay-as-you-go state, and projects aren’t undertaken until they are funded, Bradley noted.


State transportation officials have had the I-75 corridor between Cleveland and Chattanooga on the radar for widening work as part of long-term plans. Now that phase 2 of the I-75/I-24 split is at full speed, and the start of the interchange improvement project on I-75 at Hamilton Place Boulevard near Shallowford Road is on the way, some of the puzzle pieces are moving toward one another.