JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A pesky one-lane tunnel, headache-inducing traffic and concerns about future growth are prompting Johnson City to act on Knob Creek Road.

Johnson City Assistant City Manager Randy Trivette said the city is in the planning process on a massive road widening and bridge construction project on Knob Creek, coming in at a cost of almost $100 million.

The city will design a widened, five-lane stretch of road from Marketplace Boulevard to Boones Creek Road. That will include a new five-lane bridge over railroad tracks, eliminating the use of the one-lane tunnel that’s causing traffic delays on Knob Creek.

Trivette said the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will manage the construction, put the project out for bid and pay for the near-$100 million price tag. But Trivette said it could take by the end of the decade to have the project finished.

Right now, three directions of traffic converge at the one-lane tunnel under the tracks at the Knob Creek and Claude Simmons Road intersection.

Overhead view of the Knob Creek Road and Claude Simmons Road

That one-lane tunnel has caused major back-ups as drivers wait for a red light.

“It’s a huge bottleneck that people try to avoid the best they can,” Trivette said. “If you go during morning hours, traffic for work and school, or if you go in the afternoon at 5 o’clock, it’s backed up all the way down Mountainview. It’s backed up Knob Creek.”

It’s an already busy area, but Trivette said that area could become a hotbed for more housing developments, which will worsen the traffic.

“I see a lot of people taking advantage of building houses because the market’s good,” Trivette said. “I feel like that growth’s going to occur out there just because of the availability of the land.”

The city is in the early stages of a four-phase improvement to roads at the west end of State of Franklin Road. Phase 1 and 2 will involve widening West Oakland Avenue and Mountainview Road to three-lane roads with a turning lane.

Trivette said construction on West Oakland is expected to start next month and finish in the Spring or Summer of 2024. The new stretch of three-lane road will begin at Hanover Road and merge into Mountainview. It will also include a new bridge, he told News Channel 11.

“All of that will take that real sharp curve out at the top of the hill as you go back toward Mountainview Road,” Trivette said. “It will straighten it out a lot.”

Trivette said he expects Phase 2’s construction on Mountainview to be complete by early 2025. Both Phase 1 and 2 are being handled internally by the city. Trivette said they are already budgeted for.

Phase 2 will run all the way up to the one-lane tunnel. While the early phases won’t eliminate the tunnel traffic concerns, Trivette said drivers will notice the added turning lane make a difference.

“Increasing the capacity there is going to give a small amount of relief on those people who are trying to detour around that bottleneck,” Trivette said. Phase 3 and 4 is where TDOT gets involved. Trivette said Phase 3 includes the five-lane tunnel, running from Marketplace Boulevard to the Mizpah Hills subdivision.

“Our responsibility for that project was to complete the design and to purchase and gather all the right-of-way easements that we need,” Trivette said.

With TDOT footing the bill, Trivette said the city’s goal now is to get the design finished by an early TDOT deadline, in order to get the project on the department’s three-year capital improvement plan.

“TDOT has these three-year blocks of plans that they use,” Trivette said. “We’ve got to get it in that queue. Whenever they start, I have no idea. It’s all about how their funding comes in.”

That portion will cost $51 million, including $20 million for the bridge. Trivette said he is confident the city will make that spring deadline.

“That means they could start anytime between 2024 or 2027,” Trivette said.

Phase 4 runs from Mizpah Hills over to Boones Creek Road. Trivette said that the project is already on the TDOT three-year plan, but TDOT is waiting to work on Phase 3 and 4 at the same time. But, Trivette said the city must wait on TDOT to review their plans, meaning it could be a while before the stretch of road is fully complete.

“We’re also hoping that they can get started on construction, we can have everything finished and people utilizing the new capacity on the roads by no later than 2030,” he said.

Trivette said the one-lane tunnel is a historic piece of railroad history, and ensures it won’t be lost in the road widening process. He said the city has approached the railroad company with ideas about using the tunnel for a pedestrian or bike path. On Thursday night, Johnson City Commissioners will vote on funding the design process for the utility portion of the project.