If the city wants to continue to grow into Ooltewah like it is set to, without turning into a wasteland of traffic, we need to build a strong viable transit alternative to I-75, not more highway lanes.
Chattanooga repeatedly fails to build transit and car alternatives where they’re needed and ends up talking about how it needs to widen and change already enormous highways and roads to accommodate more cars, which as any city planner will tell you is a fool’s plan.
Right now, there is no way to get from Ooltewah to anywhere without a car. Nobody living there can choose to take a bus, bike, or anything but a car to get anywhere. There just isn’t a viable way without a car right now.
This is a failing of planning for Chattanooga, Hamilton County, and Tennessee.
Suburban over expansion and building of exurbs is going to continue to generate traffic with no stop in sight to the traffic unless viable alternatives to driving are available.
In 2016,The TIGER Rail Feasibility study found that it would cost $130 million to build a rapid transit system capable of moving 50,000-120,000 people per day between downtown and Enterprise South. Extending the proposed line to Ooltewah would cost $50 million-$100 million more, based on calculations used for determining the cost of the initial portion, including building stations and neighborhood bus transit connections. It would alleviate a pain point of multiple communities and be cheaper than building more highway.
Because of how deprived of options Ooltewah is, creating a viable transit option that skips the I-75 traffic completely has the potential to create a virtuous cycle of growth for the city where people build their lives around their transit connections instead of the highway benefiting the economy of Ooltewah, but also the city as a whole.
To be clear, building more lanes for I-75 for Ooltewah will never alleviate traffic. It will lead to more demand for car traffic due to lack of alternatives and waste city and state dollars that could be better spent on rapid transit options that scale with population growth. Beyond a point, highways do not scale for more cars and car alternatives become the only way to deal with increased population, which is why it’s better to plan for the use of rapid transit now rather than wait until we have 24 lanes of traffic between Ooltewah and 153 and have no money to build something effective anymore.
Just doing the next phase of the I-75 split is expected to cost $160 million. Redoing the Ooltewah exit for more car traffic and widening I-75 between Ooltewah and the 153 interchange would cost much more than that.
Currently, there is not enough population in Ooltewah to justify a rapid transit line alone, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a better option than spending the money on wider highways.
Building a rapid transit system for Chattanooga and extending it to Ooltewah would be a real Chattanooga growth plan that allows for people to continue to live where they want without generating further traffic, infrastructure debt, and planning problems in the future.