Rockslides, Heavy Volume Spur Widening of Major WV Artery

Thu June 19, 2003 - Northeast Edition
Tracy Carbasho

Workers are literally “between a rock and a hard place’’ as they proceed with a multimillion-dollar project to widen the primary roadway through the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.

“We’re taking a sliver cut off a one-mile long hillside. The most difficult part is that it’s narrow and steep,’’ said Ralph Mashuda, president of Mashuda Corp., of Cranberry Township, PA. “There’s just enough room for our trucks, drills and other equipment and there’s certainly no room for mistakes. It’s not like building a highway on virgin ground.’’

Mashuda was awarded a $19.9-million contract earlier this year to serve as the primary contractor in charge of widening a 1.2-mi. (1.9 km) section of State Route 2 from two to four lanes. The affected portion of Route 2 is located in Brooke County between the cities of Follansbee and Weirton. The contract includes a $24,000-per-day incentive/disincentive for early or late completion.

The existing roadway, consisting of two travel lanes and paved shoulders, is situated on a narrow bench between a steep hillside and a set of Conrail railroad tracks. The Market Street Bridge connects Route 2 to Steubenville, OH, right in the heart of the widening project.

Chad Lowther, project manager of the West Virginia Division of Highways, said slightly more than 1 mi. of Route 2 just north of the current job site was widened by Pittsburgh-based Trumbull Corp. during a $26.7-million project two years ago.

The work being done by Mashuda and approximately eight subcontractors began in March and is expected to be completed October 2004. Department of Highway (DOH) officials said the project requires great skill and caution because the 300-ft. (91 m) hillside which is being excavated is located close to the Market Street Bridge and the Conrail railroad tracks.

Mashuda said a protective fence has been erected to guard the bridge from being damaged by stray rocks during the blasting. His company also is using seismographic equipment to monitor the level of blasting to determine if the company needs to alter its plans to enhance safety.

The Market Street Bridge and Route 2 are closed to traffic, but are expected to reopen during the first week of August after the dangerous blasting has been completed. Mashuda said recent rain spells have hindered construction, but 75 of his employees are now working two 11-hour shifts six days a week to meet the tight deadline to reopen the heavily-relied-upon roadway.

Mashuda is utilizing a Caterpillar 5130 with a 13.5-yd. (12 m) bucket and a smaller backhoe with a 7-yd. (6 m) bucket. Lowther said approximately 3.4 million cu. yds. (2.6 million cu m) of material must be excavated during this phase of the widening project. Mashuda hopes to remove approximately 2.3 million cu. yds. (1.6 million cu m) before the bridge and roadway are reopened.

Gus Suwaid, area engineer for the DOH, said the need to control the blasting also is of special concern due to the location of nearby residential areas in Highland Hills and McKim’s Ridge. There have been a few reports of stray rocks, but no major accidents have occurred.

A study conducted by the DOH in the late 1990s showed that the average daily traffic volume on this section of Route 2 was approximately 26,500 vehicles with 3-percent truck traffic. The number is expected to increase to approximately 39,800 vehicles over the next 20 years.

Rockslides in the area near the Market Street Bridge have created problems for motorists for at least two decades. The DOH evaluated the possibility of addressing the slope failures with a variety of methods, but ultimately determined it would not be fiscally prudent to invest millions of dollars to fix the slope without widening the road.

Suwaid said the hillside on the east side of the existing roadway consists primarily of gray, fissile-bedded shale interbedded with siltstone, especially at the upper levels. A rockslide that occurred in May 1983 covered the entire width of the road and injured one motorist. Since then, the hillside has continued to weather and numerous other slides have occurred. The hillside will be stabilized by cutting back the slope and incorporating several benches.

Suwaid also pointed out that both the horizontal and vertical alignment of Route 2 must be improved in order to meet modern design criteria. There also is a need for an exclusive right-turn lane onto the Market Street Bridge from Route 2 and for enhanced sight distance at the intersection of Route 2 and County Route 8.

“The existing roadway has substandard vertical and horizontal alignment and has multiple curves,’’ said Suwaid. “There also are geotechnical and drainage problems that result in sags in the roadway and subsequent hydroplaning. The project will greatly improve the quality of Route 2.’’

Suwaid said substantial improvements, such as base repair and the addition of guardrails, were made to local roads which have been used as detours since the first phase of the widening project in 2000 and 2001. An 11-mi. (18 km) detour has been created using U.S. 22, State Route 27 and County Roads 1 and 12.

Route 2, which runs parallel to the Ohio River from Huntington in Cabel County to Chester in Hancock County, is the only major north/south highway in West Virginia’s northern Panhandle.