November 29, 2023

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Utilities surprises, stormwater and sewer deterioration delay East Ridge multimodal project

The first phase of a 1.2-mile, $8.6 million-and-counting construction project in East Ridge is 35% complete but some unexpected issues with utilities and deterioration of underground stormwater structures has delayed the project and increased its cost.

The unforeseen problems popped up on Ringgold Road at South Moore Road, according to East Ridge Grants Manager Cameron McAllister.

“The contract amount will need to be increased to cover the additional costs associated with the unforeseen utility conflicts and added storm sewer work,” McAllister said Thursday in an email.

He said there is not yet a dollar amount to pin on the problem. The contract date containing the June completion date will have to be extended but it’s unknown for how much longer, he said.

Rossville, Georgia-based contractor Talley Construction is installing a 10-foot-wide shared-use path on the south side of Ringgold Road and a 5-foot sidewalk on the north side, along with new curbs, gutters and drainage structures, according to officials.

As the project began during the summer, officials said the most significant and least visible issue the project addresses is stormwater runoff, which represents about half the project cost. The work will also provide more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly access through that part of Ringgold Road and improved entrances to properties along the way, according to officials.

Throughout its history, the pavement on Ringgold Road in many areas has flowed directly into business parking lots with little distinction between where the road ends and the parking lots begin.

Ringgold Road is East Ridge’s segment of U.S. Highway 41 and has sidewalks of varying age intermittently scattered along the route but with little connectivity. Flooding has been a longstanding problem, officials said. A bike path is marked off along the shoulder on both sides of the road in recent improvements but few other changes have been made.

McAllister said he’d heard both complaints and accolades from businesses along the construction footprint where a virtual gauntlet of orange barrels line the south side of Ringgold Road with gaps to reach the businesses.

At the Sonic Drive-In near the corner of South Moore and Ringgold roads, Manager Kristian Ethridge sees the project from two points of view, he said Friday in a phone interview.

“From one perspective I’m very realistic with that it’s happening because it’s good construction but from the other perspective it’s an interruption not just for work but for the whole community,” Ethridge said. “I mean I’m about five minutes late to work almost every other day. And then I’ve got co-workers who are late to work, and I know other people are probably late to their jobs.”

But Ethridge also sees the goal of the work.

“It’s loud and it’s a little disruptive, but there’s a reason for it,” he said.

(READ MORE: East Ridge motel closed due to high crime, residents given 4 hours to leave)

Construction makes up about $6.5 million of the project, of which $3.1 million is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, passed in 2021 by Democrats in Congress.

The remainder of construction funds comes from the city’s general fund and debt financing, according to officials. Property acquisition was about $1.25 million of the cost, and design and production of specifications for bids made up the balance of the original $8.6 million total project price tag.

Officials said the work started near the middle of town because drainage improvements had to be done at lower elevations so stormwater runoff from higher elevations has somewhere to go.

The project will be done in four sections beginning on the south side of Ringgold Road between Kingwood Drive and the Walmart Market to the east, according to officials.

The second section of the project extends from the Walmart Market to McBrien Road on the south side of the road and involves design challenges where businesses such as the Checkers and Sonic Drive-In restaurants are very near Ringgold Road. Workers during the past week could be seen building new entrances to the two restaurants and other adjacent businesses.

(READ MORE: More apartments and townhomes planned in East Ridge)

East Ridge’s work and maintenance responsibilities end at the edge of the roadway, which is a state-maintained federal highway, according to officials. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has a role in the project for monthly inspections and progress updates.

In the coming days, East Ridge drivers will see some portion of Ringgold Road reopened to four lanes, McAllister said.

“Sidewalk, drainage and curbing will continue on the south side of Ringgold Road from John Ross Road to McBrien Road,” he said. “I would suspect that work will jump from the south side to the north side of Ringgold Road at McBrien in January or February 2023.”

More to come

Similar work is in the pipeline for other portions of Ringgold Road in each direction, but the future projects aren’t yet funded, according to East Ridge officials.

East Ridge’s new Food City grocery store, not far from the project limits, has no sidewalk yet, but when the improvement effort swings past the new store, that will be part of discussions between the store and the city, officials said. The city is seeking more grants to fund the future phases of improvements.

Contact Ben Benton at [email protected] or 423-757-6569.