440 Parkway: Can’t live with it, can’t live without it

10-month nightmare: 100K cars/trucks per day could be pushed onto already-packed routes

Friday, June 08, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 23
By Hollie Deese

Hated dodging potholes on 440 Parkway? How much would you hate doing without the entire roadway for 10 months?

That’s one possibility the Tennessee Department of Transportation is considering for early next year when work begins to rebuild – not repave – the 7-mile stretch from below ground level up.

And even if you swore off 440 years ago after a flat tire or a broken axle, remember this: Those 100,000 cars and trucks that use 440 every day would have to find other routes. And that would turn the city’s already maddening traffic congestion into gridlock like we’ve never seen before.

But what about that lovely repaving that’s already been done? 440 seems better than ever.

It’s temporary, a $2 million Band-Aid on top of the $8 million Band-Aid – cutting grooves in the worn-out concrete surface – applied in 2009.

“This paving is sort of a stopgap measure to get us through at least one other winter,” says BJ Doughty, community relations director for TDOT. “Quite frankly, our crews couldn’t keep up with the amount of potholes and patching. So, we decided to go out there and do some larger-scale paving just to get us through. Kind of a Band-Aid.”

Now all of that has to be dug up and cleared out – nearly a foot deep throughout the length of the roadway in what Will Reid, assistant chief engineer of operations for TDOT, says is referred to around the office as “the big project.”

The time for Band-Aids is over. This is major surgery.

“Ultimately you’ve got to go in and cure the disease rather than just treat the symptom, which is what the potholes are, a symptom of a larger issue,” Reid adds. “So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve bought ourselves a little bit of time in preparation for ‘the big project.’”

Pavement is not the only issue that needs to be addressed. The grassy median and concrete pillars also have to go. Bridges need to be widened and noise walls added and repaired. All of this will take time, create a lot of noise and severely inconvenience drivers. But most everyone can agree that 440 has to change.

“My granddaughter was driving my wife’s car and hit one of the potholes,” says Village Real Estate owner Mark Deutschmann, who lives on Sunset Place with his office about a quarter of a mile away on Hillsboro Road near the 440 exit. “She was with my younger granddaughter and they ended up having to pull over. And it’s been terrible. This fix is a long time coming. And I’m glad they at least laid down some asphalt.”

After driving on the new asphalt herself, Doughty knew people would want TDOT to leave it the way it is. But that nice, smooth surface wouldn’t last.

“We have a pretty painful construction project that’s right around the corner,” she acknowledges. “We know how congested that facility is at peak times. This is not going to be pleasant for people. They need to go ahead and start wrapping their brain around that.

“They’ve been complaining about the conditions out there for so long, but they don’t understand what the fix is going to mean to delays out there, to difficulty.

“We’re considering being able to respond to crashes out there when you’ve got concrete barrier rail all over the place. It’s going to get slower, it’s going to get more congested, and it’s going to take more time in people’s day to drive on.”

So the primary objective of next year’s rehab is to achieve three goals, Reid points out.

“No. 1 is safety,” he says. “We’ve had nine fatalities, crossover crashes, on that route since it’s been in place. The large grass median basically creates a launch pad for vehicles. So that raised median will go away and be replaced with a more traditional freeway-type paved shoulder and median barrier.”

The second piece is the overall pavement rehab project. 440’s pavement is almost 30 years old, well past the original life expectancy of most concrete pavement, so it needs to be replaced. How exactly that happens depends on the design-build selection, but it won’t be easy, quick or cheap.

The third piece of the rehab project is congestion management, addressing some choke points in the corridor, like a project TDOT tackled at Nolensville Road along 440 nearly 10 years ago when it extended an acceleration lane and basically took out a choke point that existed.

“We have the same thing at several locations between I-40 and 65, like Hillsboro and West End, where those merges come in and you only have two through lanes between those interchanges,” Reid says. “It causes congestion problems. So we’ll connect the dots between those interchanges.”

Picking a design

An actual design has to be chosen before work can begin.

Traditionally, the state would design a project and accept bids from builders. The contractor with the low bid would complete the task to TDOT’s plans and specifications.

For this project, four design-build teams – Archer Western/Parsons; Jones Bros. Contractors, LLC/QK4; Kiewit/WSP; and Superior/Janssen Spaans Engineering – have been qualified and selected to bid on the job.

Those teams will develop high-level concept designs for TDOT consideration. This method puts design, right-of-way acquisition, regulatory permit approvals, utility relocation and construction all in one contract.

“So we give them the limitations of what they can do and what they can’t, then they will go out and build it,” Reid says.

The four teams are preparing proposals for TDOT now, and the department anticipates receiving those in late July. At that point TDOT officials will determine the best value from the bids, based on time, design and dollars. “So it’s not just a low-bid scenario,” Reid adds.

The contract will be awarded by TDOT no later than August 3, 2018. Work is anticipated to begin in January 2019.

“The department is going to every length they can to come up with the best way to build this project,” Reid says. “One of the reasons we went with design-build is we know it’s a complex, very heavily-traveled corridor where there’s congestion problems.

“We’ll get private industry to give us some ideas on how to build this thing the fastest and most efficient manner.”

Displaced drivers

Reid says any closures or lane reductions that will occur will be largely dependent on what the design-builder proposes. There are three likely scenarios:

-- A shutdown that would alternate between the east and west sides of I-65.

-- Complete shutdown for 10 months.

-- Partial lane closures, leaving it drivable but congested for the length of the project, which would then take years.

“How is time a part of the best value calculation when we look at building this job?” Reid posits. “Is it more of a conventional, have to sit in traffic for three-or-four-years type of job, or are there ways that we can get it done quicker?”

And local traffic impacts are greater than, say, an interstate job, because of the numerous neighborhoods that access it. Plus, it’s a tight squeeze to work in.

“Because all that concrete’s got to come out, because we’re taking the grass median out, you’re talking a lot of heavy equipment,” Doughty points out. “And there’s just not a lot of room out there.”

TDOT estimates more than 100,000 cars use 440 every day, more than twice the – 40,000 – that used it when it opened in the late 1980s. With the growth of the city, no matter whose projections you use, that number will only increase.

“We certainly know that we are going to see an increase in traffic, which is why there is a congestion management part of this project,” Doughty says. “It will not probably change the world, but it will help.

“Like the work that we did around the Nolensville Road end a year ago has helped with that bottleneck at the 40-24 split.”

Deutschmann prefers to walk to work every day, but he sometimes has to use that loop to get around. So depending on whether TDOT opts for lane closures or to shut down entire sections for a length of time he will have to adjust his driving. Not to mention so will anyone else coming to his office.

“Depending on which section is closed, and where I’m going, I would continue to use what I can of it,” he offers. “Or, weave through the city in the neighborhoods and get to where I need to go in a different way. So, it would be inconvenient, but it’s not tragic.”

Known as a community builder, Deutschmann also is president of Greenways for Nashville and a major supporter of the 440 Greenway that is finishing up its first section between Elmington Park and Centennial Park. He says this rehab project might even help fast track the completion of the greenway.

But there are a couple of pinch-points he can identify where it will be a little more difficult to put the greenway along the wall. And those are the places he’s like to talk to TDOT about.

“I’d like to think that the possibilities still exist to get some of this greenway done as 440 is being done,” he adds. “There’s seven and a half miles of greenway on 440. They have a massive budget to this piece of it. The greenway piece would be a little bit.

Tire-killing potholes have been temporarily covered with a smooth topping of asphalt to the delight of drivers. Next year, however, the old roadway will be completely removed and rebuilt.

-- Leigh Melton Singleton | The Ledger

“And, if they’re making shifts and big plans, it’s not a bad idea to include greenways. Because one thing I know, is they’re taking out a lot of the green space in 440.

“It makes sense for them to replace it with a linear park and alternative transportation. TDOT is all about transportation. And I think greenways are way more than just a trail. They’re a piece of our transportation system.”

How is Metro preparing?

Mayor David Briley says he is “pulling together Public Works, MTA, Planning, MNPD and other Metro departments in the days and weeks ahead to make sure the city has the best possible plan for dealing with any state closures of 440.

“We’ll also continue talking to Nashville’s employers about encouraging workers to stagger commute times and take other measures to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads. If we all work together, we can minimize the inconvenience as we look forward to a new and improved 440.”

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons sent an email to his constituents describing the 440 project’s impact on all neighborhoods in District 55, the House district he represents.

“I would hate to imagine what Hillsboro Road/21st Avenue, Woodmont Boulevard, Old Hickory Boulevard, West End, Franklin Road/8th Avenue, Lealand Avenue, Belmont Boulevard, Lebanon Road, Murfreesboro Road and many other local arterial roads would look like from January to October 2019 if this proposal gets traction,” he wrote in the email.

“While the ultimate decision should be made on sound, reliable data, with consideration of multiple factors including cost to taxpayers, your feedback is required and should be heeded by decision-makers.”

In fact, TDOT is soliciting feedback from 440 drivers now as to which plan they prefer. Still, what routes those 100,000 vehicles would likely take and what provisions state and Metro governments are making to handle that excess flow of traffic has yet to be worked out.

Doughty says that TDOT coordinates with Metro Transit Authority and Metro Public Works on projects in Davidson County. But no set plans such as extra bus service or park-and-ride shuttle services are in place yet, and likely won’t be, until a design and project plan is finalized.

For that reason, MTA officials think now might be a good time to go ahead and at least try the existing bus system.

“As congestion and traffic woes continue to grow in and around Nashville for residents, commuters, and visitors alike, we hope that those affected by any future road construction projects will consider giving Nashville MTA a try to see how our services can fit into their daily commutes, as an option to connect them to their lives and their communities,” says Amanda Clelland, Public Information Officer for Nashville MTA and Regional Transit Authority.

Despite IKEA dropping out of its build last week, the Hickory Hollow interchange project is still moving forward, Doughty points out, noting TDOT is expected to let the contract in late summer or early fall 2018.

“That’s going to be probably one of the biggest other jobs that we have,” Doughty acknowledges. “It will be a long-term project, probably two years. We are trying to coordinate and make sure that, the best we can, we are not shutting the city down.

“But we want to manage people’s expectations. That corridor has not seen construction in a long time. And when you’re talking about over 100,000 cars every day, and somebody that’s got a life and somewhere to be and somewhere to go, it’s going to impact their life.”

The cost

The 440 project is being done within the limits of the existing right-of-way, so no land acquisition is going to be required. Still, the current estimate for the project is $130 million.

But remember that 2009 project in which grooves were cut into the 440 concrete surface to coax a few more years of service? The initial investment for that was $4.3 million. The final cost was $8 million, meaning this project could cost much more than the estimated $130 million.

“We really have to wait and see what the Design-Builder comes up with,” Reid says.

And to top it all off, it is going to be incredibly noisy, and at all hours.

“When you’re talking about busting up that kind of concrete, it is going to be noisy out there,” Doughty admits. “And even though we don’t know all these details yet, we are going to expect – as a department – that this is a 24/7 operation out there. So there’s going to be some pain in that regard, too.”

Back in 2016, TDOT had estimated a project with all the bells and whistles like what is being considered now, including adding through-lanes where there are currently drop offs as well as addressing median and lighting issues, would come in around $100 million.

Another option was considered to spend considerably less, around $30-$40 million, for a scaled-back pavement project with some safety improvements. But that was before modifications to remove the median, concrete barriers, tackle congestion points, adding some capacity and installing more noise walls were also on the table.

Ultimately, it was decided that putting the public through a difficult construction project and then only having smooth pavement was just not going to cut it.

“As Will (Reid) said, we’re not treating the symptoms. We want to cure the disease,” Doughty continues. “And until you get that concrete out of there, anything else that you put on top of it is just going to crumble eventually. And that’s not sufficient, nor is it a good service to the people of our state.”