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Senior Design Team Takes on Improvements to Alcoa Highway

Jimmy Albert, Nick Cheney, Josue Garduno, and Will Huettner.

Left to right: Nick Cheney, Will Huettner, Josue Garduno, and Jimmy Albert

Alcoa Highway, which connects Blount and Knox Counties, has been undergoing a lengthy and complicated redesign. One section of the busy artery—from Hall Road to Pellissippi Parkway—will be rerouted to the east and will serve as a higher speed route for folks traveling to Knoxville.

Getting a chance to contribute to this effort for their senior design capstone was a highlight for Jimmy Albert, Josue Garduno, Will Huettner, and Nick Cheney. The City of Alcoa requested them to provide alternative layout concepts prioritizing multimodal infrastructure at a reasonable cost, and the team won best overall project at the fall 2021 Senior Design Showcase for their work.

The stretch the students worked on is the existing roadway, which runs most of the length of the airport. The students developed an upgrade design for this road, given that its use will change to multimodal.

Google Maps view of a portion of Alcoa Highway.

Google Maps view of a portion of Alcoa Highway

The students sought to design solutions feasible to the city’s strategic goals. Their design included pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure such as crosswalks, pedestrian crossing signals, widened sidewalks, and redesign of some driveway and access roads to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Ultimately, the sidewalk plan they designed has potential to serve as the link between Knox and Blount County greenways, which is a major initiative of City of the Alcoa.

Some of the recommendations were in the areas of signal optimization and drainage. Other recommendations included intersection design, traffic control, and erosion control measures. For signal optimization, the team used Synchro microsimulation software with projected future volumes and made recommendations for green time for all movements within the intersection to improve crossing time for all modes of traffic at this intersection.

“Senior design provided a great opportunity to learn and grow in preparation for professional practice as an engineer,” said Albert. “Through the support and guidance provided by Dr. J (Jenny Retherford), mentors, clients, and faculty, our team was able to develop a plan to improve the accessibility and safety of vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic along a section of Alcoa Highway.”

Garduno said he was very satisfied with the senior design course because it provides students with a glimpse of the engineering world.

“This senior design team took advantage of a wonderful opportunity,” said Retherford. “The seniors engaged with City of Alcoa and Gresham Smith engineers with professionalism and care. Their design solutions were well communicated, which led to an extremely valuable learning experience. Witnessing their unique individual growth was a joy! They will all be impactful junior engineers and I look forward to seeing their impact on the profession.”

The team thinks the City of Alcoa and the businesses there will appreciate a redesign of the existing roadway to accommodate the local vicinity. This road currently does not accommodate multimodal access and carries high volumes of daily traffic. The team recognized the opportunity to revitalize the existing roadway to better serve the local public through these enhancements. Their project generated alternative layout concepts and brought a preferred option capable of improving local traffic access to businesses to final design.