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TDOT begins 5-year project to move Donelson Pike

By 2027, a brand new interchange will get drivers smoothly into BNA from the east
Posted at 10:18 AM, Sep 23, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's a massive undertaking that will affect drivers near the Nashville airport for years: The Tennessee Department of Transportation is moving Donelson Pike.

By 2027, a brand new interchange will get drivers smoothly into Nashville International Airport from the east.

Before then, drivers should get ready for ramp changes, slowdowns and other growing pains.

Behind temporary airport walls, some 1,000 workers are busy building Nashville a new and improved airport.

"We raised the ceiling 14 feet from where it was before, we've got a two-story opening here so it's going to be very grand," said BNA Chief Engineer Traci Holton as she showed off the new lobby, which will boast a central security checkpoint with 24 lanes, along with a plethora of glass and natural light.

"It should be a faster, more direct experience," Holton said.

The work on the BNA Vision and New Horizon plans is happening in stages. The new lobby opens in January. Once all the renovations are complete over the next six years, BNA is getting ready to be much busier.

By then the airport will have expanded by more than two dozen gates, with 69 in total.

"We've had record growth, record-setting days the last two Sundays in a row, and that growth is why we're doing all this," Holton said.

On Sunday, September 18, more than 36,000 passengers departed from the Nashville airport. It was the most ever — beating the record that was set just the previous Sunday.

The airport expects to welcome 30 million passengers per year by 2041.

"We started with a $1.2 billion (expansion) program and now were almost at a $3 billion program," Holton laughed.

The airport generates its own revenue to cover the costs of construction.

Alongside the expansion of the airport, roads need to accommodate more cars as they drop off, pick up, park and maneuver the area. TDOT says its project, currently in early stages across the highway, will help.

Contractors just started initial dirt work that will relocate a busy pike.

"Nashville is a fast-growing city," said TDOT Project Supervisor Sarah Fugate, while standing at the site just north of Interstate 40, and east of Donelson Pike. "This is actually going to be the new Donelson Pike where we're standing. It's going to come right through here and turn and connect to the existing Donelson Pike."

TDOT plans to keep the current Donelson Pike bridge but rename it after crews create a whole new interchange further east. The shift will allow the airport to double its current loop: from 1 to 2 miles long and from three lanes to six lanes.

"There will be a lot more capacity on the roads, and hopefully easier decision-making, more time to make those decisions," Holton said at BNA.

The new Donelson Pike Interchange will flow differently than drivers may expect. It's Middle Tennessee's second Diverging Diamond Interchange, or DDI, after the first opened at Interstate 24 and Hickory Hollow Pkwy.

In a DDI, traffic switches to the left side of the road to cross the overpass, before switching back to the right, alleviating the need for drivers turning left to cross oncoming traffic.

"It will basically be the same as making a right turn, but you're turning left," Fugate said, explaining that it's a strategy that's growing in popularity when interstate ramps are expected to be busy.

After a TDOT worker hit a pipeline, a subsequent lawsuit and a clean-up, both road projects were delayed. Now, airport officials hope their roads are fully complete in 2028, a year after the TDOT project deadline upon which it relies.

Changing the roads will be the final step to help handle the load as Nashville's airport gets busier. Airport staff hope the right infrastructure will help set a certain tone.

"Inviting is maybe the word," Holton said, "and hopefully a calming experience. Because travel can be stressful."