JOHNSON CITY - Barring any "last minute" complications, motorists traveling along Tennessee Highway 36 in Johnson City will discover easier traffic flow, less congestion and safer conditions by late spring or early summer.
This new situation will be the result of a Tennessee Department of Transportation project more than two years in the works. Widened from two lanes to five, with the addition of sidewalks and bike paths, Highway 36 - North Roan Street inside Johnson City's corporate limits - will transform from an old rural route, ill-suited to its level of use, to a heavily traveled thoroughfare more indicative of the surrounding commercial and residential areas.
"About one-third of the five-lane section is open now. As we get further into the spring, we'll be able to open more of it and you'll see a bigger difference," TDOT Assistant Regional Construction Engineer Randy Busler said. "The capacity and safety will definitely improve. The sidewalks and bike paths will make it more pedestrian friendly.
"(The project as a whole) will dramatically improve the area."
Two lanes in each direction plus a center turn lane will provide a world of difference for motorists familiar with the heavy congestion and extended waits behind other motorists intending to turn left on the stretch of road.
This project was originally slated for completion in December. However, some "right of way issues" and other routine construction occurrences served to push the contract nearly to its limit of completion in June.
Busler said the most time-consuming portion of the project was utility relocation.
"Currently, they're completing the curb and gutter sections and stormwater drainage on the south end," Busler said. "We've also still got quite a bit of paving to do."
Work was coordinated to help ease the strain of delays during times when students were either arriving or leaving Indian Trail Middle School.
"All along, we worked with the school (officials), and that was something we asked the contractors to keep in mind," Busler said.
Crews have been working since December 2004 to widen the heavily traveled road. Relocating utilities, constructing a new bridge, clearing brush, moving earth to make room for new lanes, and extensive paving work have been aspects of the project.
This work is actually the first phase of a larger project to improve Highway 36 farther north through Boones Creek and Gray and Tennessee Highway 75 toward Tri-Cities Regional Airport into Blountville.
TDOT spokesman Travis Brickey said the subsequent phases are "still in the planning stages."
An average of 18,280 vehicles per day traveled this stretch in 2003. The same stretch is projected to service 31,400 vehicles per day in 2023, leading TDOT to fund the $14 million construction contract.