Tennessee DOT Increases Safety and Capacity with I-40 Upgrades
Interstate Investment: I-40 Improvements to Increase Economic Opportunities in Jackson
Improvements to Interstate 40 through Jackson, Tennessee, will add travel lanes and feature redesigned interchanges in a densely commercial corridor.
“We’re increasing the capacity on I-40 and improving safety through the corridor,” says Cody Roberts, District Engineer for the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).
The highway and interchanges were designed and built in the 1960s, and until now, have not received updating. I-40 runs east to west and splits the city in half. About 65,000 people live in Jackson and 400,000 in the regional service area.
“We are improving the intersections, so the citizens can enter and exit the interstate more safely,” Roberts says.
The improvements will not only enhance citizens’ access, but also businesses that rely on deliveries of raw materials and transportation of finished products, says Mandy White, Senior Vice President of Economic Development for Jackson Chamber.
“Transportation infrastructure is one of the many important factors companies consider when they are looking at places to relocate or expand,” White says. “This will only add to the assets Jackson already has.”
Jackson’s location off the interstate is a draw for residents and businesses. Many industrial parks are located as close as a half of a mile to a couple of miles to the highway. She explains that 76 percent of U.S. major markets are within a one-day drive of Tennessee, making it an attractive location. Delta Faucet Co., Toyota, and Owens Corning are among the manufacturing companies located in Jackson. Additionally, Great Wolf Lodge, a nationally known family resort and indoor waterpark, is considering locating in Jackson, bringing an additional 500,000 new visitors to the city annually.
“The investment the state is making in our community to make it easier to travel both within and through the community only means positive things,” White says. “Ease of travel inside our community will make it easier for guests to enjoy Great Wolf Lodge and explore other parts of the community.”
Traffic volume has increased significantly since the 1960s. I-40 now carries about 60,000 vehicles per day along this stretch of highway. Additionally SR 186, also known as the 45 bypass, carries 45,000 vehicles daily, and 36,000 travel on SR 5 daily. The average daily traffic on the interstate is anticipated to increase to 70,290 vehicles per day by 2033. In addition to local and commuter traffic, the route carries a large number of trucks and tourists visiting Casey Jones Village, one of the state’s top tourist attractions.
“Safety is always our No. 1 priority, so when we have an opportunity that will make the intersections safer, we will go that route,” explains Nichole Lawrence, Region 4 Community Relations Officer for TDOT.
This project represents the first of three that TDOT plans for widening and enhancing safety in the I-40 corridor in the Jackson area. The department began with this project due to available funding. The money was in hand before contracting with a contractor.
“Tennessee is a pay as you-go state,” Lawrence explains. “We are debt free in transportation. We are only one of five states without transportation debt.”
Scope of Current Work
The current $67.5 million project includes adding one lane in each direction on a 2.9-mile stretch of I-40 through the city’s central business district; reconstructing I-40 interchanges at SR 186 and SR 5; removing clover leafs; adding auxiliary lanes, to reduce weaving on the interstate; reconfiguring the intersection of SR 186 and Casey Jones Lane to allow for left turns; repaving the entire stretch of highway; and building two new steel-girder bridges, one at SR 186 over I-40 and one on I-40 over SR 5. The new interchange at SR 5 will feature a single point urban interchange, designed to safely and efficiently move large volumes of traffic through limited spaces.
Engineering consultant Gresham Smith of Knoxville, Tennessee, designed the project and Delta Contracting Co. of Jackson, Tennessee, received the two construction contracts. Delta, founded in 1977, specializes in heavy highway construction throughout the Southeastern United States.
Delta began construction activities in September 2017. The contractor bid for an early completion of the SR 186 interchange and the intersection of SR 186 and Casey ones to Old Hickory Boulevard. Delta completed that portion of the contract on time, in May 2018. The contractor had to finish these aspects of the project before starting on the SR 5 interchange. SR 186 and SR 5 are the two prime north-south routes in Jackson, so one had to remain open at all times. During both bridge constructions, traffic was rerouted to a temporary traffic pattern.
Maintenance of traffic presents challenges to the project. The contractor must assure access to businesses and keep two lanes of traffic open in each direction on I-40, SR 186 and North Highland Avenue, except for short nighttime and weekend closures, for bridge demolition or setting of steel beams.
Delta demolished the bridges using jackhammers to break up the existing bridge and then dropped pieces onto the roadway below.
TDOT has conducted extensive outreach to keep drivers informed about lane shifts and closures, giving them enough time to plan ahead. The department also has partnered with the app SmartWay to keep its maps up to date.
The new lanes are being built into the former median. The department did not need to purchase additional right of way, and there were no significant environmental concerns.
Crews are milling off the top two layers of asphalt on the existing pavement and resurfacing. All of the lanes will be paved with an open grade friction course. The project remains on time for a June 2021 completion.