published Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Georgia: Signal repairs on track for completion

by Adam Crisp

The Lookout Mountain rock slide that closed Scenic Highway over the weekend will get a formal geological inspection Wednesday.

That look, performed by Tennessee Department of Transportation geologists, will assess the overall stability of the mountainside, said TDOT region spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn.

Already, city of Chattanooga workers say they plan to leave the big boulders on the side of the slope rather than attempt to crush and haul them away.

Repairs to the collapsed road leading to Signal Mountain are on target for the original seven- to 10-day completion date, even after a construction worker lost control of an excavator this weekend and tumbled 30 or so feet down the mountainside.

Bart Saucer, project engineer with Wright Bros. Construction, which is doing the repair work, said he thought the road could be ready for motorists by Monday of next week, if not earlier.

The accident "set us back a little bit, but not much," Mr. Saucer said. "This type of work is pretty dangerous."

The employee was not injured and has returned to work, Ms. Flynn, said.

Mr. Saucer said about 8,000 tons of rock will be poured into the crater, left after heavy rains last Tuesday evening caused water to cascade off the mountain, slamming into the road and breaking it apart.

After the hole is filled, TDOT workers will pave it, Ms. Flynn said.

Crews are working around the clock after Signal Mountain Boulevard was reduced to one lane.

Southeast Tennessee has seen three rock slides this fall. The first was in Polk County along U.S. Highway 64, which closed that road for at least eight weeks. The second was on Signal Mountain last Wednesday and the third was overnight Saturday on Lookout Mountain.

Saturday night's slide, a smaller event that sent a large set of boulders down Lookout Mountain onto Scenic Highway, will get a formal geological inspection Wednesday that will assess the overall stability of the mountainside, Ms. Flynn said.

Already, city of Chattanooga workers say they plan to leave the big boulders on the side of the slope rather than attempt to crush and haul them away.

Kevin King, who lives on Signal Mountain, said he spotted the hole on Signal Mountain Boulevard about 2 a.m. Wednesday. He may have been the first to notice it since there were no signs or barricades up yet.

"There wasn't anybody there," said Mr. King, who was headed home after a late plane flight. "Who knows what would have happened if I was any closer to the yellow line? Thankfully, I saw it 10 to 15 feet away."

When he arrived at the top of the mountain, he flagged down a Signal Mountain police officer and told him about the damage. Law enforcement had alerted the media about the closure by 4 a.m.

Traffic was rerouted from Signal Mountain Boulevard over the weekend and alternate routes -- the W Road, Roberts Mill Road -- were very crowded. A stalled truck on the W Road caused problems for a couple of hours Saturday.

"I received several calls Saturday about the W Road being very backed up," said Signal Mountain Councilman Paul Hendrix. "When there are road closures, the W Road is really our only lifeline."

Signal Mountain residents will be pleased that the road is repaired, said Vice Mayor Susan Robertson, but also a bit leery.

"I think many people wonder if it's a Band-Aid repair rather than a permanent fix," Ms. Robertson said.

But the condition of the entire length of Signal Mountain Boulevard from the bottom of the mountain to the top needs to be examined, she said.

"The road is on sandstone and it's deteriorating," she said. "The current repair work doesn't really address the whole problem."

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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