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TDOT leans toward spot improvements for US 127

Plans to improve US 127, also known as State Route 8 and Signal Mountain Boulevard, continue as a top priority for some town of Signal Mountain officials, who deem it a “lifeline” to the mountaintop community.

After part of the road washed out in 2009, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the roadway, completed a study in 2011 that presented three different options for improving the degrading road: reconstruct it, create a new route via the W Road or apply spot repairs along Us 127 while improving drainage issues along with other areas of concern.

During a recent presentation to the local Transportation Planning Organization’s Technical Coordinating Committee, TDOT Project Planning Manager Steve Allen recommended the third option.

“Drainage is the No. 1 issue on the route,” he said. “Drainage issues start affecting the stability issues. I recommended the spot improvement plan because for the cost, you get a lot of improvements for that amount of money.”

“That amount of money” is about $10 million, which could be more or less depending on what spot improvements are selected for the roadway. The reconstruction plan comes with a $75 million price tag, and it would cost $114 million to transform the W Road into a new route that would more than double its its current length of 3 miles to 6.2 miles.

Now that this first step of deciding on a plan has been made, the project can be considered for funding. None of the officials questioned had any idea of a timeline on starting the project.

According to Allen, the spot improvement plan would improve safety, stability and reliability, meeting the goals TDOT set forth in the technical report “to create a more reliable and direct route between Signal Mountain and Chattanooga” while doing it at a much lower cost than any other option suggested thus far. This plan, however, would not reduce crash rates or improve efficiency because the current alignment of the road would be maintained. The crash rate for that section is already lower than the state average.

Other than the problem of the larger cost, Allen said the option to reconstruct US 127 would close the roadway for two years, with partial closings for another six months.

“At the end of the day it always comes down to what is the most practical and what can you fund,” said Signal Mountain Mayor Bill Lusk. “You have to think the most likely outcome will be the one that gets the job done. I think [the spot improvement plan] would be the most practical solution. It will address our major concerns.”

The spot improvement plan consists of several different components, as Allen said TDOT has identified at least nine areas of stability concern along the study area that need to be rebuilt. Those components could include a variation of removing vegetation, scaling, applying shotcrete and rock bolting, and drilling and installing soil nails, anchors and drains. To correct drainage issues, culverts would be replaced and ditches would be upgraded and improved.

Town of Signal Mountain Mayor Bill Lusk said he has had “dream plans” in the past for improving US 127 but knows the funding isn’t currently available nor would the expenses be practical.

“In the meantime we need to make sure the road doesn’t fall off the mountain again,” he said. “I think it’s [the spot improvement plan] a good start.”

The spot improvement plan hasn’t officially been passed. Lusk said the next step is to work with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Association to secure funding and finalize plans for the future of US 127.

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