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Staff photo by Ben Benton / Jackson County Road 17 near Skyline, Alabama, has been a crumbled mess since last February's record-setting rains damaged it and numerous other roads across the county. Local residents use a makeshift road alongside, shown here on Feb. 13, 2020, to get past the foot-high slabs of asphalt.

SKYLINE, Ala. — Jackson County Road 17 south of Skyline, Alabama, took a beating last February when the region was hit with record-setting rains, and February 2020 has been no kinder.

About 100 yards of County Road 17 is a mangled mess with almost 2-foot-thick chunks of asphalt sticking out of the ground like giant puzzle pieces that need to be assembled. Officials say the problem lies deep beneath the roadway.

Jackson County District 3 Commissioner Melinda Gilbert said county officials are waiting for geological testing to be completed and drier weather to start on a fix. Meanwhile, people are using a makeshift path to get around the damage.

"I understand that the people are frustrated, I really do, but I would rather fix it than have a Band-Aid on it," Gilbert said Friday. "Plus [repair work on] that road got state funding and federal emergency funding."

Gilbert said the county engineer described a void under the damaged area on County Road 17 where repair materials — gravel, asphalt, fill dirt — keep vanishing into the ground while the problem persists.

"This plan that we want to do we feel like is a more permanent fix. That's what's taking so long," she said. Since testing is being done on County Road 17, officials want to sort out problems on three other less-traveled county roads, too.

"We're doing geo-testing on those all at the same time," she said. County Road 17 will get the first work.

County Road 17 is a link to Scottsboro for Pleasant Grove residents on County Road 8 and County Road 17 residents on the south end of the town of Skyline. If motorists headed for the Jackson County seat want to avoid the bumpy, muddy tire-track path around the damaged pavement, they take the broader, more modern Alabama Highway 79.

February 2019's torrential rains damaged roads all over Jackson County — as well as across the region — and most of the fixes are complicated and incomplete. County officials said significant damage also had been done to numerous county roads including 38, 93, 178 and 189.

EMA director Paul Smith said Friday that recent rains have only made most of the areas damaged last year worse.

Photo Gallery

Jackson County, Alabama, roads damaged by rains

"County Road 93 is worse now than it was a week ago," Smith said. He said repairs on most of the damage done last year are still awaiting funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Smith said years of ongoing collapses and repairs in the same spot on County Road 17 have resulted in layers of pavement about 6 feet thick. That material will have to be removed to address the underlying water problem.

The underground water movement is a common problem for roads across the region, according to officials. Near Chattanooga, U.S. Highway 41 in Marion County, Tennessee, where it wraps around the north side of Aetna Mountain, has had ongoing slide and collapse problems for decades. A $17.4 million Tennessee Department of Transportation project is under way now to repair the most recent slide damage.

A recent presentation to the Jackson County Commission shared in a video on the commission's Facebook page described an operation to dig almost 20 feet into the ground beneath County Road 17 to install closely spaced, "grouted columns" to establish a new, stable base to support the rebuilt road above.

The plan appears similar in many ways to the repair the Tennessee Department of Transportation undertook on Highway 41.

Commission Chairman Tim Guffey didn't return calls Friday requesting comment on the project and anticipated cost, but he told Huntsville television news station WHNT that the tally was expected to be about $6.1 million for the repair to County Road 17 and three other severely damaged county roads.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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