I-40 construction shutdown begins in Knoxville
By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — So far, so good for the Interstate 40 reconstruction project through downtown Knoxville.
At 12:01 a.m. Thursday, a mile section of 1960s vintage highway closed for a 14-month makeover.
It’s the beginning of the final phase in a $275 million expressway overhaul to replace a dangerous patchwork of tunnels, bridges and exit-entrance ramps known to locals as “Malfunction Junction.”
The route also carries major east-west I-40 traffic and north-south I-75 traffic through the city.
Travelers on I-40 now are being diverted onto an existing I-640 bypass and I-75 motorists are being channeled onto an existing I-275 connection. Detour signs have been up for two weeks and monitoring suggests out-of-town travelers are having no trouble following the alternate routes.
A red-light problem Wednes-day backed up morning commuters on a city side street. And residents in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood of restored older homes complained on their blog about 3 a.m. construction noise they say rivaled an earthquake a few weeks ago.
Otherwise, the SmartFix-40 interstate closure went off without a hitch or accident.
“It has gone extremely well,” said state Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely, who kept an overnight vigil on the shutdown. “I think it shows if you plan well enough, you can make one of these projects a lot more bearable for the public.”
The SmartFix-40 project is considered one of the most complex undertakings in Tennessee Department of Transportation history. Planning began in 2004 and construction began in 2005.
The project employs some novel features aimed at shaving two to three years off an ordinary schedule.
Closing the construction zone completely and diverting traffic onto existing bypasses will allow for around-the-clock work, while contractors are being offered multimillion-dollar bonuses to finish early and $25,000-a-day no-excuses fines for being late.
Completion is set for the end of June 2009.
Nicely said SmartFix-40 lessons may be applied to other TDOT projects, where bypasses are available.
“Clearly I think the idea of closing an expressway in order to expedite the construction process is well worthwhile when it will work,” Nicely said. “There is no question in my mind that it is a better way to do it than being here for three years with traffic crawling through downtown Knoxville.”
TDOT spokesman Travis Brickey bristled when reporters asked about blog complaints from Fourth and Gill residents over middle-of-the-night construction noise after TDOT’s ubiquitous public information campaign.
TDOT created a community information center, a Web site and a special phone number, then sent workers door to door through the neighborhoods with printed advisories.
“We never explained how loud it would be or how little it would be,” Brickey said, adding that the potential impact was “something that we have communicated from the very beginning even before initial construction began.”
Tennessee Department of Transportation: http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/smartfix/jwp/default.asp
Published in The Messenger 5.2.08