BY KEN LITTLE
Work on safety improvements at the dangerous intersection of U.S. 11E and Bridge Burners Boulevard should begin later this year.
The Project Safety Office of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) is currently reviewing an environmental document detailing the proposed work at the site.
"They are currently completing the contract and preparing for an August 2013 construction letting. Within the next few weeks, TDOT Project Safety will submit our plans to the permitting office for early permit clearance," agency spokesman Mark Nagi said May 10.
"This is pending any unforeseen permitting issues," Nagi added.
About $1.1 million in recommended improvements are included in TDOT plans for the intersection.
A Road Safety Audit Review (RSAR) was approved in December 2012 that details planned improvements to the intersection.
They include two flashing warning signs.
Other planned work includes additional acceleration and deceleration lanes on U.S. 11E and Bridge Burners Boulevard.
Specifically, the safety project will incorporate median modifications to improve traffic flow, extension of the left-turn acceleration lane for traffic turning onto 11E from Bridge Burners Boulevard, and offsetting the left-turn lane on Bridge Burners Boulevard to enhance sight lines.
Warning signs and reflective striping were installed earlier this year.
As another part of the project, the Bridge Burners Boulevard pavement on the approach to 11E will be widened and overlaid.
Federal funds will pay for most of the work, with some commitment of TDOT funds. No local funding match is required.
Right-of-way acquisitions will also not be required, according to the RSAR.
CRASHES STILL OCCUR
Some work has already been done in the intersection area, the site of two fatal wrecks and numerous less serious crashes in recent years.
Further safety improvements will be done to better guide motorists, especially during low light, or in the rain or fog, Nagi said.
The most recent weather-related crash near the intersection happened on March 25, when a tractor-trailer overturned in high wind conditions in the westbound lanes of 11E in the area of Bridge Burners Boulevard.
The wreck prompted a detour of westbound traffic onto Bridge Burners Boulevard for several hours until the scene was cleared. The driver was not injured.
Two fatal crashes have happened at the intersection in the last two years, on April 1, 2012 and on Jan. 18, 2011.
In the April 1, 2012 wreck, two people died, including a 4-month-old infant.
"Similar conditions caused the two fatal crashes in that a vehicle was headed east on U.S. 11E and collided with a tractor-trailer truck making a left turn from Bridge Burners Boulevard at the intersection," the RSAR audit states.
"Both of the fatal crashes occurred during adverse weather conditions, one during rainy and wet conditions and one during foggy conditions," the audit adds.
According to the RSAR audit, the annual average daily traffic volume on U.S. 11E at the intersection is 13,710 vehicles.
An estimated 300 to 500 trucks daily enter and exit the nearby Walmart Distribution Center on Bridge Burners Boulevard and use the intersection.
Those figures equate to an average of 9.5 vehicles per minute every day, a minimum of one truck every 4.8 minutes daily and a maximum of one truck every 2.9 minutes each day.
Following a site visit one year ago by TDOT officials, eight advance truck-warning signs -- four facing in each direction on 11E -- were installed.
Four signs face traffic approaching the intersection from Greeneville, and four other signs face vehicles coming from the direction of Bulls Gap and Interstate 81's Exit 23.
Currently, eastbound vehicles must slow down if a truck turning left toward Interstate 81 from Bridge Burners Boulevard is not using the acceleration lane on the westbound side of the four-lane divided highway.
MORE TRUCKS COMING
The audit notes that more big trucks will use the intersection with the scheduled opening of the nearby US Nitrogen plant, which is currently under construction and projected to begin operations in the first quarter of 2014.
"[The] intersection will be re-evaluated for traffic signalization in the future after the opening of the new chemical plant," the audit said.
At that time, updated traffic counts will be done, along with the evaluation of other possible safety improvements, the audit states.
Putting a traffic light or a flashing traffic signal at the intersection warning oncoming motorists of trucks pulling out onto 11E has been discussed in the past.