Much-needed 440 overhaul a growing pain for businesses

Friday, April 12, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 15
By Hollie Deese

Heavy traffic on I-440 moves east beneath West End Avenue.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

Tony Caldwell and wife Danielle opened OSHO Collective, a salon and wellness studio on Grandview, two years ago.

Located directly off the Nolensville Road exit of 440, a majority of their clients travel the roadway to get to the spa. Of the many ways people can drive, 440 is typically the fastest, and it’s Caldwell’s route of choice when driving to work from the Percy Warner Park area.

“Four-40 has always been an issue,” Caldwell says. “And 440 has continued to be an issue, specifically during rush hour.

“We’re on that chunk of 440 that’s closer to 24, and that whole corridor all the way from downtown is just a nightmare. So that bogs down 440 all the way over to the 65 entrance. And clients are coming in anywhere from 4:30 to any time around 5.

“It’s just a nightmare for anybody to get there at that time.’’

And now that heavy construction has begun on 440, the Caldwells are helping clients by sending emails reminding them of the construction and offering advice on alternative routes.

“When we opened we were pretty diligent about making sure all the different GPS systems had our actual address,” he says. “We learned about that because there’s another Grandview over in Green Hills, and it was sending some people there. But we tried as diligently as possible to make sure we covered all those bases because everybody lives by GPS these days.”

Reworking schedules to accommodate late clients is normal in the salon business, but Caldwell wants to keep it to a minimum.

“It’s not uncommon for a client to be late, so we have to be flexible no matter what,” Caldwell explains. “We have to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and we’re taking care of the clients that can show up. But if they’re going to be super late because they’re stuck in traffic and they just aren’t going to be able to get there and it’s a problem, we will work with them to try and get them in.

“Luckily, they’re doing the part of the road that’s in the middle of the residential area now, but I have no doubt that’s going to make our life a living hell when it gets down here,” Caldwell adds.

TDOT has never sugarcoated how disruptive this road project will be, and the agency agrees things are going to get a lot worse for drivers on 440 before they get better.

Remember, one option floated for the entire parkway to close for a year.

“Drivers will notice traffic shifts are going in place,” says Clayton Markham, TDOT operations district manager and I-440 project manager. “In the next couple weeks the whole corridor will be in the new traffic pattern. The big thing during construction is for everybody to slow down and be patient.

“Just understand that traffic’s going to back up through different areas. We have to reduce it down to two lanes in order for the contractor to have room to work. So, with that, congestion’s going to increase.”

Heavy traffic amid construction on I-440. A couple years of lane closures and congestion were deemed better than shutting 440 for a full year.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

Prep work for the major renovation began in November and is ongoing, including the installation of fiber optic network and new lighting, construction of seven noise walls and the completion of two small projects to alleviate congestion on the westbound Murphy Road exit ramp and the eastbound Hillsboro Road exit ramp.

Long-term lane closures for heavy construction operations on the reconstruction project began the weekend of March 1 between West End and Belmont, with traffic patterns shifted so work could begin on excavating the grassy median. This includes restricting traffic to two lanes in each direction during the day and one lane in each direction at night, shortening I-440 merge lanes and closing roadway shoulders.

“What’s going back there will be an additional lane in each direction as well as a concrete barrier, similar to those like you see on I-65 or I-40,” Markham explains. “There’ll be three lanes in each direction all the way through the corridor.”

Work will soon move west with operations to I-40 and then continue from I-65 to I-24. By early spring, the entire corridor is expected to be under heavy construction as the median continues to be removed and all of the concrete is rubblized on the in the inside lanes.

Rubblization is a construction technique that reduces existing concrete into rubble at its location, rather than hauling it elsewhere, saving time and transport costs. That concrete will be used to make asphalt.

Once this work is complete, traffic will shift to the inside lanes while crews work on the outside lanes. Markham assures the public that crews will move fairly quickly through the corridor, aided by the contractor’s 24-hours-a-day/six-days-a-week operations. Because of that though, residents will be impacted by overnight construction noise.

The contract for the $152.9 million project was awarded to Kiewit Infrastructure South Group in August 2018, and includes an August 2020 completion date.

“Using the design-build contracting method allowed us to explore every available option to deliver this large, complicated project,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said at the time the bid was awarded. “We believe the process led to several innovative concepts, and the winning proposal saved more than a year of construction time.”

Work will begin on the I-440 bridge over I-65 by fall.

I-440 was originally designed, and the right-of-way land purchased, for an interchange at Granny White Pike. When the focus shifted, 440 became tied up in lawsuits, which TDOT eventually won by proving the project was in the public interest, a rock-blasted alternative to the 1950s-era Interstate Program that plowed through neighborhoods.

Construction started in the late 1970s, and I-440 opened to cars in 1987. Back then, Annual Average Daily Traffic clocked an average of 45,627. Last year it was nearly 95,000, a volume of traffic the road was never meant to handle.

And if drivers thought dodging potholes and crumbling concrete was an issue, things are about to get worse as entrance ramps shorten and roadway shoulders narrow or are even eliminated in most areas.

The speed limit has been lowered to 45 miles per hour. The existing roadway shoulders have been paved to use as a travel lane while construction is underway on the median and inside lanes.

Since there will be no space to move disabled vehicles off the roadway, even minor traffic incident will cause heavy backups throughout the corridor. Motorists are being instructed to more wrecked vehicles – if drivable – to the next exit.

“Safety is really important,” Caldwell says of 440. “Having been on it virtually every single day it’s really important for people that are going to use it while it’s under construction to just really be careful. The road is really uneven and you’re driving on parts that are not supposed to necessarily be driven on, and big huge trucks are coming in and out.

“My biggest fear is somebody trying to get to OSHO would get hurt on it.”