The beautiful fall colors make this one of the busiest weekends of the year for the Great Smoky Mountains. As the fall colors turn, so do millions of wheels into Sevier County and the national park.
With all of the tourists comes chronic congestion, especially at the 407 exit of Interstate 40. On Friday afternoon exiting traffic was backed up four miles on I-40 East.
"We're in a very busy time right now. Traffic will back up and you have
significant delays," said Mark Nagi, TDOT spokesperson. "We ask people to be patient and drive safely because there is definitely a lot of traffic."
TDOT keeps moving ahead with some long-term solutions that aim to clear the congested roads to the Smokies. One heavily-anticipated plan is a new diverging diamond design at the 407 exit.
"It's kind of a unique design. People are temporarily going over to the other side of the road, or in this case the other bridge on the overpass," said Nagi.
The diverging diamond weaves traffic onto the opposite bridge of the overpass. The diamond shape means drivers never have to wait and yield to head-on traffic to make a left turn. This allows the bridge to handle a larger amount of traffic and lets cars drive faster.
"The diverging diamond is currently in the design phase and we're looking at construction to begin in 2014 or 2015. That project will cost between $11 million and $13 million."
About 25 miles east of the current back-ups, traffic zips by exit 432 where TDOT is building a new wider route to the Great Smoky Mountains nearby.
"The new Highway 411 through Jefferson and Cocke Counties, that project is just now underway. It is 3.81 miles of reconstruction. It is a significant project and an expensive project costing more than $27 million."
Blaylock & Sons Construction is cutting the new four-lane highway from a portion of the existing Highway 411 to Highway 25/70 in Newport just south of the 432 exit. By 2015 the new four-lane portion will be complete, thereby allowing drivers to bypass the existing Hwy 411's two-lane twists and turns that keep traffic crawling at slow speeds.
"These projects will help people get to and from their destinations quicker, but it will also be safer for these folks as well. We do not want traffic backed up onto the interstate," said Nagi.
These newer endeavors are in addition to the long-time Highway 66 widening project currently in-progress. Phase 2 of the project is set to be complete by the end of this November. The third and final phase requires a widened bridge over the French Broad River. It is scheduled for completion in November 2014.