By Dick Cook Staff Writer
Steve Jones, Tennessee Department of Transportation supervisor in Polk County, is in charge of clearing debris along U.S. Highway 64 from a Dec. 30 rock slide.
Mr. Jones, a native of Greasy Creek, said the slide is the largest and most destructive that has happened along the two-lane road that winds along the Ocoee River.
Q: The rock slide along U.S. 64, where does that rank on the list of calamities that you’ve had to deal with? A: Right now this has been No. 1. It’s the biggest slide Polk County has witnessed. It ranks right up there with the flood in the 1980s that washed away part of the road or the blizzard (of 1993).
Q: What’s the scope of destruction there?
A: There’s about 150,000 tons of rock. We’ve got about a fourth of it removed, and it will probably be about Tuesday before we allow traffic through. In the last four years, we’ve averaged about one good-sized slide a year with about 2,000 to 3,000 tons of rock. It takes us about five or six hours to clear the road in a slide of that size.
Q: Where were you when the slide happened?
A: I was there. It was about 7:30 on Thursday morning. I had stopped to move some football-sized rocks, and as I opened the door of the truck, I looked up to see the embankment coming down. I put it in reverse and backed up.
Just a few hours later, with the slide still unstable, a tree came down across my truck. I should have been 50 or 60 feet in the clear. When the tree came down across the truck, I was standing with the door open. I was talking on the radio with the THP (Tennessee Highway Patrol) and I reached into the truck to adjust the volume on the radio and was bent over the seat. That’s probably what saved me.
I’ve renamed that place Devil’s Bend.
Q: Why? Have there been other incidents there?
A: Let me back up 10 months. Two hundred yards from there, after a storm had come through, we were clearing a tree that had fallen across the road. The tree didn’t like me cutting the top out of it, and it shifted sideways. It broke my left foot in two places and got the cartilage and ligaments in my right knee. I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Now you can see why I call it the Devil’s Bend. My boss said he’s going to ban me from that area.
Q: The public sometimes hears about TDOT workers finding some strange things along the roadway. What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve encountered along the roadways of the state? A: Marijuana growing in 5-gallon buckets on the shoulder of Interstate 75 at the Charleston exit in Bradley County. That was about six years ago.
The 5-gallon buckets were just out of the mowing zone on I-75. Think about it, that’s a perfect place to do it. People are driving by so fast you don’t notice. We wouldn’t have noticed if we weren’t going slow doing the mowing.
We also found a patch planted on Highway 68 under the power lines in Polk County. There’s probably more out there that we’ve missed.
Q: With all the construction in the Chattanooga area, TDOT has a bad reputation with the motorists in Southeast Tennessee. What kind of reaction do you get from Polk County motorists?
A: They are more tolerant to a certain extent, except when you close the road for two weeks. Their only alternative is state Route 30.
Most of the local people see us out working every day, they will wave, throw up their hand when they see us cleaning ditches or clearing brush making the highway safer. Even the truckers radio one another when they come by and say, "Thanks. We appreciate what you’re doing to make it safer for everybody."
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