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Repairs Continue on Slide-Damaged U.S. Highway 41 in Tennessee

Mon June 15, 2020 - Southeast Edition
Chattanooga Times Free-Press

TDOT has waged a decades-long battle with the mountain and the slides caused by heavy rains.
TDOT has waged a decades-long battle with the mountain and the slides caused by heavy rains.

The now nearly $19.2 million Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) slide repair project begun just over a year ago on U.S. Highway 41 in Marion County has been delayed again, due to another wintertime swamping by Mother Nature.

A change order for additional repairs was awarded May 28, leading the TDOT to now estimate the project will be completed at the end of October.

The current project is the largest and most expensive of the state's attempts at a permanent — or at least a longer lasting — fix for the mile-long piece of Highway 41 on the highly mobile north slope of Aetna Mountain. The highway runs between the mountain and the Tennessee River, just east of Chattanooga.

TDOT has waged a decades-long battle with the mountain and the slides caused by heavy rains.

Last year's repairs were supposed to have been completed by the end of November 2019, but ongoing damage from downpours kept forcing more repairs. Problems on the roadway began in December 2018, initial repairs started a month later and bids were opened in May for the current project. Dement Construction Co. in Jackson, Tenn., was awarded the project with a $16 million bid shortly thereafter.

But incessant rains keep dealing out damage, and the project suffers.

TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said rainfall this past January and February totaled more than 18 inches in Marion County, after a very wet fall in 2019.

"This caused noticeable cracks in the centerline of the roadway in two different additional locations within the project limits," Flynn explained. "The department monitored the movement at both locations and determined that both slides should be repaired and added to the scope of work included in this project."

That meant that to complete the roadwork's first phase, the new damage had to fixed, and that led to a $1.6 million change order to add the additional slides to the first phase of the current work, Flynn said. That also meant work on that segment of road slowed while repairs went through the design process.

The second phase can begin as soon as the first is complete, she added.

State engineers are glad to be able to resume quickly.

"We are pleased that we were able to include these two additional slide sites in this project," TDOT Region 2 Director Joe Deering said. "Because we had the specialty geotechnical contractor already on the project, they were prepared to go to work as soon as we were able to execute all the necessary documents and receive final approval for the change order."

Flynn said that once the new slides are repaired, a new lane will be constructed on top of the repaired areas and traffic switched to that lane, which will be nearest the river. After Phase 2 is completed, the roadbed will be rebuilt, and pavement installed to reopen the road to two lanes.

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