This report is from Day 3 of my return trip back east on June 30, 2004, during my 2004 summer vacation.

Froggie's 2004 Summer Vacation, Return Day 3:  Appalachian Bound

After spending the night in Chattanooga, we set three goals for the day:  collect some Tennessee counties that neither of us have been to, go up and see Lookout Mountain, and drive up and hike around Cumberland Gap. Unfortunately, the weather in Chattanooga that morning comprised of low clouds, mist, and occasional showers, so we had to pull the plug on Lookout Mountain.

- From our hotel on TN 317, we headed back out to I-75 and then south down to I-24. South of TN 317 to the end of the construction zone, the mainline pavement/widening looked mostly complete, just a few finishing touches needed.  Still a bit of work to do at the I-75/TN 317 interchange, though. South of the construction zone, SB I-75 briefly opens up to 5 lanes approaching the TN 153 interchange, where the 2 right lanes split off to TN 153 North. Noticed 0.1 milemarkers in the I-75 median (and later in the I-24 and US 27 medians). At the I-75/I-24 split, the BGS for I-75 South warned of "SHARP CURVE 55 MPH".

- On NB US 27, the TN 58 shields have been removed from the BGS for Exit 1C/4th Street. The new Tennessee River bridge is nice and wide. Where there used to be 4 lanes with no shoulder, there is now 6 lanes with full shoulders. The two extra lanes currently serve as auxiliary lanes between the interchanges on each side.

- Enroute to Soddy-Daisy, noticed that the 0.1 milemarkers along US 27 use the I-24 interchange as the Zero Milepost...found that interesting...perhaps an indication that I-124 will remain and/or be extended?

- Took TN 111 at the split north of Soddy-Daisy. As reported previously on MTR, TDOT is indeed upgrading TN 111 to freeway. Noted two construction zones...the first one was at the top of the hill (going up the eastern Cumberland Escarpment up to Walden Ridge), where a diamond interchange (with concrete ramps) is being built at Jones Gap Rd. My previous time up here in 1999, this is where I U-turned to head back to Chattanooga. A temporary access road, utilizing part of the future NB on-ramp, serves as access between TN 111 and Jones Gap Rd.  2-lane/2-way traffic exists on the southbound side through the interchange area and for a couple miles west.

- Further northwest, TN 111 opens back up to 4 lanes, with an occasional truck climbing lane going southbound, and has an interchange at Lewis Chapel Rd, before going down a 4-mile long 6% grade. The SB side has a scenic overlook along this grade. Near the bottom of the hill, there's an interchange at East Valley Rd. The second construction area runs for a couple miles just east of US 127, with traffic using the northbound lanes.

- Exited at US 127. Noticed that TN 8 begins at the interchange and is duplexed with TN 111 going north from US 127, but we took US 127 north instead. Could not tell if the freeway section along TN 111 extends north of US 127.

- US 127 is predominantly a 2-lane road, sometimes with no shoulder, between Dunlap and Pikeville, with a fair amount of traffic. On the outskirts of Pikeville, the roadway widens to 5 lanes. We exited early, onto TN 30 East, to cross back over Walden Ridge and nab a couple more counties.

- The first part of TN 30 going up the ridge is nice...much straighter than shown in my DeLorme, and with an eastbound truck climbing lane. This improved portion ends about 1/3 of the way up the ridge, though, and the remainder of the trek is narrower and twisty. Up on Walden Ridge itself, there's a (5-6 mile?) loop off of TN 30 signed as TN 443.

- Descended back down Walden Ridge into the Tennessee River valley and the town of Dayton. Westbound TN 30 has a truck climbing lane going up the hill. Down in Dayton, what appears to be the old routing of US 27 through town is now signed TN 378, and TN 30 has a brief 3 block duplex with this route. The traffic signal at the southern TN 30/378 junction is interesting in that there is a single signal head for each of the 4 directions, and it is side mounted on the right.

- East of Dayton to the Tennessee River, TN 30 is a tad narrow (almost no shoulder) with lots of curves and driveways and very few passing zones. Because of the curves and frequency of driveways, this segment is signed 45 MPH.  There's a nice modern 2-lane bridge across the Tennessee, complete with full shoulders. TN 30 then drops back to being narrow until Decatur.

- At Decatur, we opted north on TN 58. TN 58 is fairly typical Tennessee highway (if there is such a thing). At the junction with TN 68 (a 4-way stop), there's a sign posted that says "NO SELLING ON STATE R.O.W." Further north, at the TN 72 junction, gas at a Citgo was 1.679. From north of TN 72 up to the Tennessee River crossing, TN 58 is much straighter than the DeLorme suggests, and there are truck climbing lanes on the hills. At the Tennessee River, a new bridge is being built to replace the existing steel truss bridge, though construction looks like it was just recently started.

- Took TN 58 into and through Kingston, where it is a 5-lane undivided from just south of US 70 up to I-40. We briefly headed on I-40 west, over to US 27, to position ourselves to nab Morgan County, which we did by taking a brief jaunt up TN 328 from US 27. Back on US 27, we continued north to the US 27/TN 61 split and followed TN 61. Between US 27 and TN 62, TN 61 is a 2-lane (and somewhat busy) roadway that parallels a dual-track CSX railway for most of the length.  Most of the rail crossings I saw had signals and gates.

- The TN 61/62 duplex is 4 lanes divided, and has a partial interchange on the east edge of Oliver Springs. Mostly signed 55 MPH too. Rather than continue into and through Oak Ridge, turned left early and continued on TN 61 East, which serves as an ad-hoc western Oak Ridge bypass for traffic between TN 62 and TN 95.

- TN 61 turns onto itself at TN 95 (also the northern TN 95 terminus...didn't get a pic, though), and is 4-lanes from here up through Clinton and on to I-75.  There's a fairly busy intersection at the junction with US 25W. We hopped onto I-75 up to the US 25W/TN 63 interchange. I-75 is fairly busy through here, but the main thing of note was red signs prior to Exit 134 (US 25W/TN 63) warning of the permitted and prohibited cargos at the US 25E Cumberland Gap Tunnel.

- Between I-75 and LaFollette, US 25W/TN 63 is 4-lanes divided, becoming 5-lane undivided through LaFollette. The wide section ends at the north end of the town, where we continued northeast on TN 63. Compared with much of the older roadway that it parallels, TDOT rebuilt TN 63 as a good 2-lane highway, with good sight distance and wide paved shoulders. We took a brief side trip to nab the edge of Union County.

- Took US 25W up to Cumberland Gap to do some hiking. There's a pedestrian bridge over US 25W on the north end off Harrogate. Control cities at the US 58 interchange were Cumberland Gap, TN and Jonesville, VA. Went through the tunnel and on into Cumberland Gap Nat'l Historical Park. Due in part to Meaghan's asthma, plus my hiking from the Virginia side last year, we started on the Kentucky side this year, as that's the shorter/easier approach up to the Gap.  Even with the heat, humidity, and the occasional stop (to minimize having to use the inhaler), we made it all the way up to Tri-State Peak, which is about a 1 1/4 mile hike up from the parking lot on the Kentucky side (and about 2 miles from the Virginia lot off of US 58). We also went up to Pinnacle Overlook, which was very impressive...the trail leading to the overlook even has the Kentucky/Virginia state line painted onto it.

- Once we were done hiking, we made brief stops in Middlesboro (for ice cream) and Cumberland Gap, TN (to tool around and take a few photos) before getting back on the road...heading southeast on US 25E. A lot of work has gone (and is still going) into upgrading US 25E into a 4-lane road leading up to Cumberland Gap. It'll be a good corridor once finished. Ran into a signage problem, though: in Tazewell (TN, not VA), US 25E has an intersection with TN 345, then rounds a bend and immediately turns left at the junction with TN 33. There was no indication that US 25E turns left here until you were at the intersection itself. I missed the turn and wound up having to backtrack.

- Southeast of Tazewell, work was underway on the next segment of US 25E, though I don't recall seeing any major bridge work at either Sycamore Creek (right at the TN 33 North junction) or across the Clinch River. The 4-lane section picks back up just north of TN 131, though we turned off here and followed TN 131 northeast to get Hancock County.

- Headed south on TN 31, which has a rather crooked path over Clinch Mountain.  Picked up US 11W and headed east on that. US 11W from here into Kingsport is 4-lane divided highway, interestingly with a split speed limit: 55 for cars, 50 for trucks. Around Rogersville there were a couple of interchanges, at TN 66 and TN 70, though it was raining at the time so I didn't get photos. US 11W starts hitting the "urbanism" of Kingsport around Church Hill, and is fairly urban all the way in from there.

- Took I-181 north to the state line, then US 23 up to US 58/421 north of Weber City.  The north end of I-181 is punctuated by a split in the lanes, with the left lane leading to US 23 North, and the right lane becoming an exit to TN 36 (presumably old US 23). From the state line all the way up through Weber City, US 23 is very urban and very narrow...there's no way it could be upgraded through here without eating up A LOT of ROW, and matters are further complicated by the Norfolk Southern line running parallel and right next to US 23 through northern Weber City.

- Turned right onto US 58/421 east, noting that the proposed interchange that Scott Kozel mentioned would itself require a lot of ROW to build (are there any maps of the proposal online?). Was on US 58/421 only briefly...hung a right onto VA 224. VA 224 was in better shape than I thought it'd be. Relatively smooth pavement, fewer driveways than expected, and also occasional turn lanes, including both right and left turn lanes at SR 704.

- VA 224 becomes TN 93 at the state line. We followed TN 93 down to I-181, taking notes for a future project. TN 93 is an interesting mix of urban arterial, urban expressway, and even a short freeway segment. It starts off at the state line as a 40 MPH 4-lane undivided arterial, and has the first of 5 stoplights at Bloomingdale Rd. TN 93 also becomes divided highway at Bloomingdale Rd, and goes to 50 MPH just south. The road is then punctuated by the occasional side street or driveway, including another signal at Sullivan North High School, before becoming freeway at the US 11W interchange. Along this short freeway section, there are interchanges at US 11W, Orebank Rd (northbound only), TN 126, and TN 36, before the highway reverts to a more urban expresswayish standard. After TN 36 the speed limit drops to 45 MPH, and there are a couple of residential streets, a signal at Lincon St, and a few industrial accesses and an ad-hoc interchange at James White Dr. After crossing the Holston River there is one more interchange at Moreland Dr (after another industrial access), before TN 93 widens to 6 lanes and goes through a commercial area in the vicinity of TN 126. The 6-lane section ends at the eastern end of an odd I-181 interchange...odd in that it's half-directional, half-diamond, and even has two ways to access I-181 South.

- We turned onto I-181 South here, which either has very slow traffic or very fast traffic. Passed through the I-81 interchange, where the first indication you're on I-26 is the first I-26 reassurance shield south of I-81. Took I-26 south through Johnson City, where there is a SPUI at TN 381, and continued down to US 321, where we exited and headed east. The north/westbound ramps at I-26/US 321 still have the I-181 North trailblazer/control city sign, with US 23 and I-26 shields tacked above the sign. Immediately east of here, US 321 becomes freeway, though with only one interchange, at Legion St/Milligan Hwy.  East of this interchange, US 321 is freeway grade for about 4-5 miles, before the freeway section ends at a traffic signal at TN 359. Given the urbanism one deals with going through Elizabethton, it would be nice if TDOT could extend this freeway east and bypass the city.

- After the run through Elizabethton, we stayed on US 321, which duplexes with US 19E and TN 67 on a 4-lane divided between Elizabethton and Hampton. At Hampton, US 19E stays straight, while US 321/TN 67 turn off. US 321 and TN 67 have a short stretch together passing Watauga Lake, before they too split, with US 321 turning to the right. The whole stretch from Hampton to Sugar Grove, NC (where US 321 joins US 421) is very mountainous, very twisty, and very scenic.  Fortunately, there was very little traffic, so I didn't have to worry about being stuck behind slow traffic. It was getting dark by this time, though, so photo opportunities were limited.

- Some channelization at the US 321/421 junction, though not signalized. US 421 was the through route here. A little further east, the roadway picks up NC 194.  By this time, it was very dark, so we weren't able to take photos. Just west of Boone, there's a traffic signal for TRUCK US 321/TRUCK US 421, which after the fact looking at the map follows Clyde Townsend Rd down to NC 105. Rather than taking this route, we stayed on US 321/421 and wound up going through the heart of Boone, complete with lots of little shops and a 20 MPH speed limit.  Noted that there is no place in Boone where US 221, 321, and 421 all come together, let alone share pavement. US 321 splits from 421 a few blocks before 221 intersects.

- It's at that US 221 intersection that the 4-lane section begins on US 421, starting as 4-lane undivided, then becoming 5-lane undivided on the east end of town, before the 4-lane divided begins further east, though it's much nicer than my last time through here in late 2001, when much of US 421 west of I-77 was still 2 lanes. There is a *LONG* downhill grade starting just east of the BRP which extends most of the way to Wilkesboro...very noticeable to someone who is sick and can't get their ears to pop (nothing like having painful eardrums for an hour...). The first 4-5 miles of this grade is steep enough to where there are warning signs for truckers, as well as a couple runaway truck ramps.

- From roughly NC 16 North to the west end of the Wilkesboro bypass, US 421 is very commercialized with a lot of private access, something that will become a problem as traffic volumes increase. Further east, the Wilkesboro bypass is the start of the freeway section on US 421, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the speed limit go to 65 MPH on the east edge of town. Between NC 115 and I-77, you can see where parts of the route were formerly expressway...striping for some of the former turn lanes was still on the pavement.

- Ran US 421 east to Winston-Salem, then picked up I-40 east. Part of the I-40 bypass around Winston-Salem is 6 lanes (don't remember specifically where).  Further east, all lanes were open on the recent widening project through western Greensboro, which was a recent development at the time, as there were still lane restrictions in early June when I was previously in the area. By this time, we were getting tired, and I exited at NC 68 to find a hotel room...forgetting at the time that NC 68 is the "airport exit", with corresponding "airport prices" at the hotels at the interchange. Got back on I-40 and continued east in search of cheaper hotel rates, and wound up getting a room at a Drury Inn at Exit 217 for a reasonable cost (complete with free high-speed Internet).

Next up: Close to the End...

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