At any given time on any of the seven days in a week, you can expect traffic on Interstate 24, as it snakes around the city, goes over Missionary Ridge, and heads to Interstate 75, to slow to a crawl. Sheer traffic volume now causes more slowdowns than wrecks or weather and it is guaranteed to get worse. Already Chattanooga is ranked No. 11 for freight gridlock in the entire United States and we’re easily the leader in Tennessee.
During last week’s Hamilton County Commission meeting, Bridgett Massengill requested $100,000 for each of the next three years to support the Thrive Regional Partnership and, brother, it could be the best money the taxpayers ever spent.
For what it’s worth, if I were on the Commission I would double the ask. Our planners have been terribly lax in coming up with solutions and, as Commissioner Tim Boyd pointed out, “I bet we are the only city our size in the entire Southeast that doesn’t have a bypass … Dalton’s even got one! (So does Dayton, Tn.)”
Bridgett offered some alarming figures of where we are as three major interstate systems make Hamilton County a major player in the next few years:
* -- Two years ago, it was learned about 120,000 vehicles travel through Chattanooga in a given 24-hour period. It is obvious that today the accurate count would be much higher.
* -- A full 80 percent of the freight traffic (trailer trucks) is through traffic – the trucks don’t stop but are en route to elsewhere. Do you know that 80 percent is the highest volume in the United States? This accounts for greater wear-and-tear on our systems.
* -- Over 40 percent of the Gross Regional Product (and jobs) in Hamilton County, as well as Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in Georgia, are logistic dependent.
* -- When President Eisenhower developed America’s Interstate system, it was deigned to do exactly that - to go from state to state. Almost immediately it became an “inter-city” system and – presto - today it is neighborhood-to-neighborhood, which is why of all the thousands of people who work in Hamilton County, over 40 percent do not live in Hamilton County.
There is one more key factor: When the Panama Canal was enlarged, it allowed gargantuan ships that once off-loaded cargo in California to instead use the East Coast. In 2017, over four million shipping containers came through the Port of Savannah. Thousands of foreign cars are off-loaded every day.
Now you know why the State of Georgia funded the McCaysville/Copper Hill truck route that will reduce the trucks on I-75. The bids on the three-year project are now in process and the fact it will stretch into Tennessee and cross the Ocoee River is masterful. There is a great story here … this is believed to be the first time GDOT and TDOT have partnered on a multi-million-dollar project.
What that means, my dear Watson, is that the THRIVE Regional Partnership is actually a collection of 16 counties surrounding Hamilton “where all the Interstate meet.” So, think this: When the McCaysville project proves how well Tennessee and Georgia can come together, a bypass – let’s say -- from the I-59/I-24 split that will connect with I-75 (far away from the Missionary Ridge overpass) is absolutely a no-brainer.
About halfway between Chattanooga and Atlanta is Cartersville, Ga., and, while Rome is about 25 miles from an I-75 entrance/exit, it’s the devil to get there, twisting through Kingston. But GDOT is now quite serious about plunking down $125 million to build a development corridor that would inspire other companies like the huge Budweiser plant in Bartow County that has already doubled in size and employs over 700 people.
Recently Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor explained it this way: Not only will the RCDC project be the biggest transportation project in county history, it very well could be one of its greatest drivers of economic development.
"With better roads and basic infrastructure, you will see more businesses locate closer to the interstate - you will see companies start to invest, not only industrial companies, but maybe some commercial companies, along that corridor," Taylor said. "It's going to have an impact on not just the road infrastructure, but water, sewer, fiber ... it will determine where new communities are started, and homes are built."
It is expected the city of Chattanooga will also support Thrive with $100,000 and the other counties, businesses, and philanthropies will all “have skin in the game.” I think it is a stretch to think the smaller counties can match Hamilton County and the city with $100,000 but their leaders realize we are far behind when we are now just one spot away from being the “The Top Ten” in freight gridlock in the entire United States.
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