TDOT proposes widening Interstate 81

J. H. Osborne • Apr 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — A final report is expected sometime next month from an 18-month look at “Tennessee’s major artery,” which passes through Sullivan County, Kingsport, Blountville and Bristol as Interstate 81.

About 57 miles southwest of Kingsport, I-81 terminates at its convergence with Interstate 40. Together they are the I-40/I-81 corridor, crossing 28 of Tennessee’s 95 counties and spanning the state from Bristol to Memphis.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation began a study of the corridor in October 2006.

The purpose of the study included identifying deficiencies in the 550-mile stretch of interstate between Bristol and Memphis, and low-cost operational improvements along the corridor.

TDOT staff hosted a public meeting Tuesday in Kingsport to share recommendations the study will make to local planning organizations.

The meeting was sparsely attended.

Later this month, a draft of the study will be presented to state Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely. A final report, with a complete corridor program, is scheduled for release in May.

It will include “solutions” to address various issues such as congestion, capacity, operations, maintenance, safety, security, freight movement and diversion, economic access and commuter patterns. Being listed does not make the items official projects. They will be passed to local transportation planning groups as recommendations from the TDOT study.

Those groups will decide whether or not to include the items in their long-range plans. And other factors, including funding availability, would impact future implementation of the recommended solutions.

Some of the long-range “solutions” included in the study’s recommendations:

•Widening Interstate 81 to six lanes (three lanes in each direction) between Exit 57 (the I-26 interchange) and Exit 63 (Airport Parkway). Estimated total cost — $100 million (in today’s dollars). The study says it’s needed by 2030.

•Installation of Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) improvements on I-81 from Exit 57 (again, the I-26 interchange) to the Virginia state line at Bristol — about 19 miles worth of road. Estimated cost: $1.8 million up front for equipment, with annual maintenance and operating costs of $200,000. ITS includes surveillance cameras, speed detection at half-mile intervals, dynamic message signs, HELP service vehicles, 511 and Web traveler information, and real time weather sensors.

•A $44 million redesign of the I-81/I-26 interchange.

•Widening the exit ramp in the southwest quadrant of I-81’s Exit 69 (State Route 394 at Blountville), with an estimated cost of $250,000.

•Addition of a $21 million, 1.2-mile truck climbing lane on northbound I-81 between the bridge over Fort Patrick Henry Lake and Exit 63 (Airport Parkway).

For more information visit www.tdot.state.tn.us/i40corridor.

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