NASHVILLE — A top Tennessee Department of Transportation official says the department is well aware of immediate problems plaguing Signal Mountain Boulevard and will begin working next month to address them.
TDOT Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Paul Degges also said in the interview that officials are continuing with design, survey and additional preparation for the more substantial long-term work needed to keep the roadway less prone to cracks and slides.
In a pointed letter earlier this week, state Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, called on Transportation Commissioner John Schroer in no uncertain terms to correct problems.
The lawmakers said commitments to fix the vital artery connecting the affluent communities on top of Signal Mountain with Chattanooga were a major reason why they backed Gov. Bill Haslam's 2017 Improve Act, which raised gas taxes to address state road needs.
Degges said TDOT officials are scoping out the more immediate repairs and hope to align them with design, survey and additional preparation for the more substantial work funded by the Improve Act.
As for the current worries voiced by mountain residents, Degges said TDOT workers have seen "those cracks people are concerned about" during part of their recent survey.
And the department already has sent in a geotechnical crew to examine the issue and devise remedies.
Beginning in August, the engineer said, the department will deploy a "soil nailing" machine to drive metal bars into the ground that will reinforce and strengthen areas of concern.
It's intended to stop soil movement, and there will be more work to shore up cracks along with additional repaving, he said.
At the same time, officials are trying fit the short-term work into the scope of the overall project so the effort isn't wasted.
"This soil project is to address the cracks in there," Degges said, noting it is similar to the work on Highway 60 between Spring City and Grandview where huge cracks developed, forcing road sections to be closed.
Regarding Signal Mountain, Degges noted, the "larger program to make those improvements in that corridor there those [type of] projects take years to develop and build."
On the larger project, Degges said the department opted to go with the projected $10.3 million plan to make heavy repairs as opposed to rebuilding the entire highway.
It will be more reliable for commuters but it is "not doing the total fix," he said.
"Again, the reason we chose not to go that route was because the community told us about the things that were important to them," Degges said, noting that redoing the road would require blasting parts of the scenic bluff, with residents voicing dislike not only for that but the impact on the sense of "seclusion" Signal residents like.
Those were the same issues that stopped then-Gov. Ned McWherter's plans in the 1980s and 1990s to completely rebuild the highway.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.