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As TDOT crews in Rhea County, Tennessee, continue an ongoing battle with scattered gully-washers, the state will close State Route 68 for two days to give workers full access to the landslide repair site.
If all goes as planned, the road could be reopened this week.
"The goal is to totally wrap up the project during this closure," Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said via email Tuesday. "We need two rain-free days."
The road closure — originally planned to start Monday morning but delayed because of rainy forecasts — will begin at 5 a.m. Wednesday, Flynn said.
THE ROAD AHEAD
As State Route 68 repair work heads for the finish line, here’s a sequence of events that will lead to completion:
› Remove concrete barrier rail
› Mill and clean old asphalt on inside lane
› Install intermediate layer of asphalt to level both lanes
› Apply tack coat to make next layer of asphalt stick
› Install final layer of asphalt for driving surface
› Install shoulder stone
› Install guardrails
› Install striping and clean up work zone for traffic
Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation
The project stems from instability of the outside lane that led to closure on April 24 of State Route 68 as it goes up onto the Cumberland Plateau west of Spring City. What started out as a crack in the pavement became a landslide when heavy rains weakened and washed the earth beneath the outside lane down the mountainside.
Repairs started April 26 with the contractor using a technique called "soil nailing," referring to long, steel "nails" driven into the earth at an angle and then grouted into place to provide support underneath the road, according to officials.
Since then, rain has been a significant foe of the project, causing delays though the contractor — GeoStabilization International LLC — still managed to make progress, officials said. In May, TDOT reopened one lane to traffic, putting temporary signals at each end of the project to at least relieve motorists of lengthy detours.
As the project progressed, trucks hauling materials to the work site had to compete with regular traffic for the one open lane. The situation caused delays of up to 30 minutes or more while traffic flow was stopped for the duration of each delivery, officials said.
The project now is in the home stretch.
"By closing the road for two days, it will save nearly a week's worth of time on the project and the roadway can be fully reopened to two lanes," Flynn said.
TDOT district engineer Adam Casteel said Tuesday that coordinating multiple crews on the project with access and the rain is a balancing act.
"We've got a lot of activities that have to occur in a certain sequence and once we start, the road has to be closed — we can't reopen the road because it would be an unsafe condition [for motorists]," Casteel said.
"The first step going forward is to remove that barrier rail, so we'll have no protection for the traveling public anymore at that point," he said, referring to the temporary concrete barricades lined up down the center line of the road to guard traffic on the inside lane.
"Once that happens, we have to keep the road shut down until we reach a certain point that we can provide that protection again," he said.
Rain can still hamper efforts, of course, and a two-hour downpour can delay work for a full day.
"If we start Wednesday and it rains on Thursday, then the road's going to be closed Friday, too, most likely. Our plan right now is to work with the different crews around the clock for these two days," Casteel said.
"Message boards will be used to notify the public of the closure, and detours will be posted," Flynn said. "Emergency personnel in the area have also been notified of this closure."
Travelers can check on conditions by dialing 511 before getting behind the wheel, officials said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.