This months's heavy rains and flooding that pushed South Chickamauga Creek out of its banks also carried away more than two dozen large plastic construction barricades from the Interstate 75/Interstate 24 project downstream, where they were left in an unsightly tangle in trees along the creek bank.
Local paddler Jim Ledbetter, 72, was taking his canoe down South Chickamauga Creek following March 17's deluge when he spied the bright orange barriers on the bank and in the treeline between I-75 and Shallowford Road, he said.
According to National Weather Service records, 2.77 inches of rain fell March 17 in Chattanooga following 2.17 inches of rain the day before.
South Chickamauga Creek went from discharging about 4,500 cubic feet of water per second during March 17 to more than 13,000 cubic feet of water per second March 19, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's provisional data on stream flow for the period. Median daily discharge for the creek is usually well below 1,000 cubic feet per second.
Subsequent storms surely didn't help matters.
"Downstream of the I-75 construction project, we counted over 30 large, plastic traffic barriers that had washed away and were scattered throughout the flood plain for some distance," Ledbetter wrote in an email to the Tennessee Department of Transportation and copied to the Times Free Press. Ledbetter is a member of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance.
"This was extremely disturbing, as I feel that there is a possibility that no meaningful effort will be made to recover these barriers and no future action will be taken to require proper anchorage to avoid this type of thing from happening in the future," Ledbetter said. "These heavy plastic structures are not only an eyesore, but will likely remain so for decades if meaningful action is not taken."
The contractor on the project — Marietta, Georgia-based C.W. Matthews — hasn't been able to collect the barriers because of high water levels and a strong current, TDOT spokesperson Jennifer Flynn said.
The barricades were being used on the greenway that passes under the interstate bridge over South Chickamauga Creek to keep pedestrian traffic out of the project area when they were swept away last week, Flynn said. Those barriers are not the type the state or contractor uses for traffic control, she said.
"Even though the water levels have gone down, the current is still pretty strong," she said. "As soon as the current slows down to an acceptable level, the contractor's personnel will go to the creek and gather them up."
State and contractor personnel are supposed to keep barricades and barrels corralled.
"Our employees and contractors are to keep up with their barrels and traffic control devices," she said of the devices used on any project, whether it's a contracted project or work the state is doing itself.
"When they get knocked into traffic, we or they get them out of the way," she said of state agency's response. "When they're damaged, dirty or worn, we or they replace them. When they wash away by floodwaters, we or they try to get them back when it is safe to do so."
There are no specific rules about recovering barricades, but at around $200 each, the cost makes it worthwhile to keep track of them, Flynn said. The 30 barricades Ledbetter spotted would be worth about $6,000.
"[T]hese devices are only paid for once by TDOT," Flynn said. "When they are removed from the project by whatever means — theft, flood, run over by a vehicle — the contractor must pay for a replacement. It is in the contractor's best financial interest to keep track of and preserve these devices."
Ledbetter said Wednesday that he paddles South Chickamauga Creek regularly and will watch for the clean-up.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.