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Interstate 75 Opens one lane to southbound traffic; project will last till September

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By CURRENT BOXHOLDER

   After two weeks of bumper-to-bumper traffic, Campbell County’s state routes are getting some relief. On Monday afternoon, the Tennessee Department of Transportation reopened one crossover lane to southbound traffic on Interstate 75.

From mile marker 141 to 144, I-75 north and south is reduced to one lane as work continues on the landslide at mile marker 143, TDOT Community Relations Officer Mark Nagi said.

This landslide originally occurred in March. But a second landslide caused all but one northbound lane of I-75 to be shut down in early May.

“Locally, it’s a huge slide,” TDOT Region 1 Director Steve Borden said to local officials during a meeting at Cove Lake on May 17. “One of the largest slides we’ve ever had in Tennessee.”

“I have not seen a slide of this type of magnitude in 32 years,” TDOT Geotechnical Engineer Saieb Haddad said.

It is a testament to the road that it lasted for 50 years, Haddad said. But rain and erosion wore on the edge of the embankment, while moisture worked its way down into the foundation. This caused the chunk of land to slide off.

“Because of it (the slide), we’ve had to deal with the traffic issues, Borden said to Campbell County’s leaders.

Much of the southbound traffic on I-75 had been detoured through Campbell County on Highway 25W or SR 297. This caused a lot of heavy traffic in Jellico and LaFollette. TDOT worked with Kentucky partners to open up other routes. Traffic that wasn’t headed for Knoxville was sent down Highway 25E south towards Interstate 81 and Interstate 40.

Local businessman Mark Hoskins said when traffic is sent through LaFollette it affects the majority of the citizens and businesses.

“I think it’s negatively affecting businesses,” Hoskins said. “They’re (local people) either taking the back roads to avoid the local establishments, or they’re not going out. My biggest concern is not just myself. If these folks can’t make it down from Ohio to Norris Lake, that’s a big push for retail.”

The LaFollette Police Department asked TDOT for reimbursement for money spent on overtime directing traffic. TDOT has applied for federal reimbursement money and doesn’t know when it will be available, Police Chief Jimmy Jeffries said.

“We’re working vigorously with intent to restore traffic to the interstate,” Borden said. “That’s the best place for the traffic to be.”

In order to restore southbound traffic to I-75, TDOT drove soil nails into the side of the slide to stabilize it.

“We want to make sure when we put them back on those lanes that those lanes are safe,” Borden said.

While traffic has been partially restored to I-75, TDOT has been working to fully restore traffic to I-75. The project will cost $10 million, and the contractors, Elmo Greer and Sons, will be paid a $500,000 incentive to finish on time.

“Steve, give us a best date for when all of this will be done,” Jellico Mayor Les Stiers asked Borden at the meeting.

Borden said the project should be finished by the end of September.

“We want it done as quickly as possible,” Borden said. “Interstate 75 is a major corridor. (This doesn’t only impact us). This impact is from Canada to Florida. We know it is critical.”

The engineers are building a new embankment with non-degradable rock, which will be complete by the end of September.

TDOT will install some deeper soil nails over the next few weeks to allow the interstate to be opened to two lanes of northbound traffic.

“We feel good about what’s going on,” Haddad said.

Wide loads are still being detoured. Wide loads heading south are directed by TDOT to leave I-75 at Exit 62 in Kentucky, following U.S. 25 to SR 461 to SR 80 to SR 914. Wide Loads will then get on U.S. 27, entering Tennessee, and follow SR 63, and reenter I-75 at Exit 141. TDOT is instructing wide loads headed north to take Exit 141, following SR 63 to U.S. 27 into Kentucky. Wide loads will then take SR 914 to SR 80, get on SR 461, then follow U.S. 25 and reenter I-75 at Exit 62.