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ACTT Workshop: Tennessee
April 6-8, 2004, Knoxville, Tennessee

Chapter 2: Project Details

2.1 Background

The project selected for the Tennessee ACTT workshop involves the widening of Interstate 40 (I-40) and the reconstruction of several associated interchanges in Knoxville, Tennessee. The project limits extend from the Cherry Street interchange east of the central business district to the interchange with Interstate 275 (I-270) in downtown Knoxville. The existing facility was built in the early 1960s, and is now obsolete. While I-40 has a minimum of six through lanes east and west of downtown Knoxville, the section proposed for reconstruction is a "bottleneck" having but four through lanes. I-40 is a major east-west route, with a daily traffic of some 103,000 vehicles within the project limits. The traffic volume includes a substantial number of trucks. The current cross section is simply inadequate to carry this traffic volume.

The portion of I-40 within the project boundaries has other deficiencies. Some elevated portions have no shoulders. There is a left hand exit ramp to the JWP and a very dangerous left hand entrance ramp with a very short acceleration lane from JWP to westbound I-40. Local traffic between north Knoxville and downtown enters from the Broadway interchange, weaves across the I-40 mainline within a short distance, and exits left to JWP. This movement causes major operational problems, including frequent accidents.

This project has been discussed since the early 1980s and TDOT has held numerous public meetings since that time. Many alternates have been studied and presented at the public meetings. The alternates have been narrowed down to two: Alternate "K," TDOT's current design, and Alternate "L," a depressed freeway alternate. Public hearings on these alternate designs were held in June 2003 and August 2003. In conjunction with the Knoxville City Mayor and Knox County Mayor, TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely made the decision to go forward with the current design.

2.2 Project Design Details

In addition to creating six through lanes (up from four), the project includes extending Hall of Fame Drive north to Broadway (US-441), the reconstruction of an interchange between I-40 and Hall of Fame Drive, the redesign of the JWP interchange, and improvements to the Cherry Street interchange. The following describes several current deficiencies and the proposed changes to be made:

Current: Ramps from Western Avenue, Henley Street, and I-275 all merge into two lanes of eastbound traffic on I-40.
Proposed: I-40 viaduct widening - New lanes creating a total of five lanes of eastbound traffic.

Current: The entrance ramp from northbound JWP currently merges into the left-hand lane of westbound I-40.
Proposed: Northbound traffic from JWP merges into a new right-hand auxiliary lane onto westbound I-40.

Current: Southbound traffic from Broadway must cross two lanes of westbound I-40 to exit onto JWP and reach downtown.
Proposed: Southbound traffic from Broadway will use Hall of Fame Drive to reach downtown. Traffic entering the freeway system from southbound Broadway will stay on I-40 westbound; the left-hand exit is eliminated.

Current: North Fifth Avenue is a four-lane city street that provides a half interchange with I-40.
Proposed: North Fifth Avenue becomes part of the new Hall of Fame Drive to connect Broadway to downtown Knoxville. The interchange between Hall of Fame Drive and I-40 is modified to serve fully directional movements.

Current: Traffic from Summit Hill Drive must merge with JWP before exiting onto Magnolia Avenue, thus creating a short weaving condition that causes operational problems.
Proposed: Hall of Fame Drive connects Summit Hill Drive to Magnolia Avenue and Broadway. The ramps to and from Magnolia Avenue (and the short weaving condition) are eliminated.

Current: Fifth Avenue and Magnolia Avenue are parallel streets and Magnolia Avenue splits into a pair of one-way streets under I-40 ending at Broadway.
Proposed: Magnolia Avenue through traffic will be relocated to West Fifth Avenue. This will eliminate neighborhood cut-through traffic on East Fifth Avenue and provides a continuous east-west movement beyond Broadway. Old Magnolia Avenue becomes a two-way street on the south side of I-40 to better serve business access along this street.

Current: Fourth Avenue passes under I-40 and JWP to intersect Gill Avenue.
Proposed: I-40 is located further from the Fourth and Gill Neighborhood and the Fourth Avenue underpass is eliminated. Fourth Avenue is relocated to the west side of I-40 along the old interstate right-of-way and is incorporated into the neighborhood street grid.

2.3 Community Concerns and Impacts

The project faces numerous challenges. There are several historical districts adjacent to the project and it is close to the downtown area. This project will affect the local street system and traffic. TDOT and the project contractor(s) must work with the City of Knoxville and neighborhood groups to maximize the flow of traffic on detour routes while minimizing the disruption to area residents and businesses. Changes to the design of structures and roadway geometry should be considered where there are opportunities to simplify the construction process and increase motorist safety during and after the project. The project team must work with state and local law enforcement to ensure that incidents on detour routes are cleared quickly. Finally, the project team needs to remain open to change throughout the process so that new opportunities for streamlining and safety can be realized as they arise.

During 2004, TDOT has continued to hold numerous meetings with city officials and representatives of community groups. At the request of these community groups, TDOT has made a number of design changes. They include:

  • Realign Fourth Avenue to the west side of I-40.
  • Provide parking along relocated Fourth Avenue for a neighborhood park.
  • Erect noise barriers along the interstate adjacent to the Fourth and Gill community.
  • Extend First Creek Greenway under the interstate.
  • Decrease the turning radii onto Gill Avenue to discourage large trucks.
  • Keep on-street parking on Gill Avenue.
  • Realign Magnolia/Fifth Avenue to increase traffic through the business district on Magnolia Avenue.
  • Make Old Magnolia Avenue a two-way street.
  • Reopen Fifth Avenue under the railroad tracks.
  • Reconnect Williams Street under the interstate.

The department unveiled a revised design plan on March 8, 2004, at a joint City of Knoxville/TDOT public question and answer session. At that meeting, the public was advised of community inspired changes. This meeting was a great success. Issues still on the table for community input include: (1) aesthetics of noise walls and retaining walls, (2) landscaping, (3) treatment of areas under bridges, (4) lighting, and (5) permanent and detour signage.

2.4 Project Implementation

The total estimated project cost is $160 million, making it the largest in TDOT history. The construction as presently planned will be performed in two phases:

  • Phase 1: Hall of Fame Drive will connect Summit Hill Drive and Broadway (SR-33). The interchange between Hall of Fame Drive and I-40 will be constructed and the exit ramp from I-40 eastbound to JWP will be built.
  • Phase 2: I-40 will be widened to three lanes in each direction from I-275 to Cherry Street. The interchange with JWP (SR-158) will be completed and the interchange with Cherry Street will be improved.

By completing the work on Hall of Fame Drive first, continuous downtown access will be maintained during reconstruction of the interstate. In order to minimize construction time and increase safety during Phase 2, the plan calls for complete closure of I-40 to through traffic for 14 months. During this closure, through interstate traffic will be diverted to I-640, and the local street network is expected to see an increased traffic burden. These traffic impacts, however, are expected to be much less than would be experienced were the interstate to be kept in service during construction.

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Updated: 10/27/2015
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