UPDATED: Portion of US25W affected by landslide now reopened to traffic, but permanent repairs could take weeks
A portion of US25W near Goldbug, shut down since Saturday morning due to a large landslide that made the road impassable, has now been partially reopened to traffic, and state highway officials are hoping the problem can be totally corrected within the next month.
According to Quentin Smith, a Section Supervisor for the Kentucky Department of Highways District 11 the portion of the road affected, located about 100 yards from the Whitley County Extension Service office near I-75 Exit 15, had sunk four to five inches over the last two weeks. But large amounts of rain coupled with freezing weather caused the road to drop 18 inches overnight Saturday.
"Actually, it’s been sinking for years," Smith said Saturday while overseeing work to repair the road. "You can tell its been patched over many times. There was a good two feet of blacktop there where we had to dig. A lot of times we keep patching over these and eventually it will stabilize, but this one decided to go."
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet crews have been working around the clock to repair the damage. On Monday, one lane of the road was reopened to traffic. Jonathan Dobson, a public information officer for the Cabinet’s District 11 Office in Manchester, said Tuesday that solar-powered traffic signals would be used to regulate the flow of traffic through the area until full repairs can be made. Right now, the portion of the road affected has been covered with dense-grade rock.
"As far as I know, there is no restriction concerning the size and weight of vehicles that can drive over that," Dobson said. "Our engineers do anticipate that the compaction by vehicles going over the gravel will actually aid their efforts."
Dobson said only one lane of the road has been stabilized. Crews will continue to work on the area and plans are underway to install steel railroad beams along the embankment below the road to aid with stabilization. Highway officials had planned to do something similar before the slide became so serious.
"Sometimes nature takes the reins on things," Dobson said. "The finished product should be a much improved situation.
Officials call the slide on the road a "very isolated occurrence" that was caused by geologic variance in the soil structure in that particular area.
The landslide was about 30 feet long and spanned the entire width of the road.
Though the road may be passable this week, finishing the job will take longer.
"We have to find an [asphalt] plant that is open and running. We are going to see how much we have to have and then talk to some of the local plants and see what we can do."
Most asphalt producing plants close in late fall and do not reopen until early spring, usually around March. Though cold weather is not ideal for laying asphalt, Smith said it could be done. Dobson said Tuesday that it appears workers will have to wait until March to procure asphalt in order to finish repairs.
On Sunday, crews were using two large excavators to dig out loose dirt, rock and mud then refilling the area with large stone in order to shore up a decent base with which to reconstruct the roadway. Smith said a motorist lost control Saturday morning when he hit the area and went off the roadway and careened into a sign. Highway crews had put out special signs to warn motorists that the road had sunk but it was not enough.
Dobson confirmed that one of the alternate routes around the area, KY Hwy. 204, is also affected by a less serious slide that officials anticipate will be addressed in the next few months.
"It is safe for continued use at this point but it is something we want to get to," Dobson said. "The fact that we are planning to do some work there says to me it is serious enough to take a look at but not serious enough to take drastic measures just yet."
Officials aren’t yet sure how much the slide on US25W will cost to repair, but Smith said it would likely be over $100,000.