Public gives input on potential I-26 improvements

J. H. Osborne • Jan 8, 2020 at 11:30 AM

KINGSPORT — Area residents had their last chance Tuesday to attend a public hearing on proposed improvements to Interstate 26, from its starting point in Kingsport to the North Carolina state line. It comes as a Tennessee Department of Transportation study of how to improve four interstates begins to wind down. It began in late 2018 and is projected to produce a report of recommendations and possible projects by March.

What is the purpose of the study?

The results of the study provide a prioritized listing of potential multimodal projects that can be considered by TDOT or by local planning organizations.

What are some expected study outcomes?

The study will also investigate a range of multimodal solutions to address future travel demands, with emphases on managing congestion, improving safety, maximizing the potential for freight diversion and preserving/enhancing the corridor's economic benefits.


• The length of the Tennessee portion of the I-26 corridor is approximately 54 miles and includes I-26 beginning at the Tennessee/North Carolina border and terminating at the junction of U.S. 11-W and U.S. 23 in Kingsport.

• I-26 crosses Carter, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties.

• The main purpose of this study is to identify existing and emerging deficiencies along the I-26 corridor and to evaluate and prioritize improvements to address those deficiencies. The study will consider innovative approaches to explore the multimodal issues and opportunities available to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to address capacity and congestion, enhance operational efficiency, improve safety and security, expand transportation choices, and support economic growth and competitiveness. This memo documents the data gathered to support study analysis.

• Traffic volumes along the I-26 corridor range from 26,560 vehicles per day near Kingsport and 64,230 vehicles per day near Johnson City, to 8,360 vehicles per day near the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. Traffic counts are available for other roadway facilities within the study area surrounding I-26. Trucks account for between 6% and 24% of all traffic volume on I-26, depending on the location in the study area.

• There were 2,000 crashes, including eight fatalities, on 1-26 between 2014-2018.

• The highest number of crashes have occurred near interchanges, including State Route 93 and State Route 75. There are also noticeably more crashes between Kingsport and Johnson City than in the southern segment of I-26. Based on work travel trends, many people commute between the two cities, leading to elevated traffic volumes.

Some possibilities

Some of the potential improvements mentioned or shown on posters at the public hearing Tuesday included:

• Fix geometric issues at the I-26 and I-81 interchange, and address inadequate ramp length which contributes to congestion at the merge/diverge areas.

• Create overnight truck parking areas near Kingsport and Johnson City.

• Address the “freight bottlenecks” between: 11-W and Meadowview Parkway; Wilcox Drive and Rock Springs Road; and Flag Pond and the North Carolina state line.

• Installation of fencing where I-26 crosses Bays Mountain to reduce animal-crossing-related crashes.

• Address vision issues caused by glare near Eastern Star Road.

• Ensure adequate lighting and advanced signage at the 13 interchanges in Washington and Sullivan counties, located in the urbanized area.

• Widen inside shoulders, with potential median modification, to allow for more recovery time to prevent roadway departure crashes with cable barriers.

• Install overhead signage at State of Franklin Road “to prevent last-minute weaving movements.”

• Install at road weather system the entire length of Unicoi County to provide roadway users with real-time information on inclement weather conditions.

What’s next?

Troy J. Ebbert, planning supervisor for TDOT’s office of community transportation, said the study recognizes the I-26 corridor must be improved in the coming years, if for no other reason than to meet growth in traffic levels that will occur over the next 20 years.

But completion of the study doesn’t set in place a specific time frame for any of its resulting plans or recommendations. That’s because it will be up to each locality’s metropolitan planning organizations (those are the traffic and road planning agencies) to prioritize potential projects in their area.

That report will come back to local traffic and road planning agencies in each of the jurisdictions the interstates cross. Interstate 26 is the only one of the four interstates in Northeast Tennessee.

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