Some Hawkins roads keep sinking as county assesses flood damage

Jeff Bobo • Feb 25, 2019 at 7:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Highway Department spent much of Monday assessing the damage to its county roadways, making quick repairs and trying to decide which major slides and road damage will be repaired first.

Highway Superintendent Lowell Bean said his department had identified about 10 roadways that had either been washed away in areas or blocked by mudslides.

That doesn’t include state highways Route 66-N and Route 70-N, both of which will be closed for a lengthy period of time due to major slides.

Bean said the top priority on his county roads will be repairing roads needed to transport school buses.

Too dangerous for school buses

School was out Monday due to concerns about flood-damaged roads, but some drivers were asked to take their empty buses on their routes as a test run to see if their routes were passable.

Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Times News on Monday some drivers were so concerned about their routes that they stopped and came back.

As a result, school was canceled again for Tuesday. Hixson said they'll be making a decision on school closures day-to-day, but the top concern is the potential for the weight of a bus collapsing some of the softer roadways.

"Many of those drivers in the more rural areas were unable to complete their routes and were very skittish about continuing down certain roads within those routes," Hixson said of Monday's test runs. "We've been in contact with (EMA Director) Gary Murrell, who called us (Monday afternoon) to inform us there are still worsening conditions on some of those roads. Apparently, there was a van that went off a road as it collapsed. Shoulders are giving away, roads are eroding, and in some cases roads are worse today than they were (Sunday) or the day before."

"It's getting to where you're gun-shy"

What county officials discovered Monday was that despite two consecutive days without rain, several roadways were very soft.

Bean noted that a vehicle traveling on Gun Town Road "just sunk in" to the asphalt and became stuck. In other areas, shoulders and sections of roadway were breaking away.

"We've got lots of slides," Bean said. "They just keep popping up. You never know where the next one is going to be. Like this car on Gun Town road was just riding along and it just sunk in plum down to the axle. It's getting to where you're gun-shy."

Among the top priority roads that were closed as of Monday evening were Mooresburg Springs Road and Early Branch Road. Also closed is Laurel Run Park.

"I've got several slides down to one lane," Bean said. "Byrd Creek, Shiloh Church Road, Miller Bluff Road. Those are a few of the bigger ones I can think of off the top of my head. I don't know when we'll ever get them all done. It will be up into the summer, I know that."

How do you prioritize road repairs when there are so many?

Bean: "The main thing is we've got to get the roads safe for school buses. Some of these little roads that are one lane anyway, you get a little slid off of it's not safe for a school bus. You may get a car across it, but I don't even want to try a school bus. The school bus itself could slide off, and we definitely don't want that. Some of the roads they have to travel scare me when they're in good shape."

Which school bus routes are atop the list?

Bean: "Byrd Creek. Shiloh Church Road, Millers Bluff. Early Branch has a big slide on it. They're one lane, but just for small vehicles only. I just want them to be ready when they try to have school, and they're not going to be ready any time soon. Today and tomorrow they're not going to be ready. Maybe by the end of the week."

Route 70-N, Route 66-N and Route 113 remain closed

As for the state highway blockages in Hawkins County, TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi said Monday there wasn't much new information to report.

Nagi on Route 70-N at Cave Springs Road, which was closed Feb. 21 due to a massive slide: "That project is expected to be let to construction by the end of the week. No time frame for road reopening yet. This will be a long-term closure."

Nagi on the Route 66-N slide at New Life Road, which resulted in a closure Sunday: "They are currently working on plans for an emergency contract for that slide. No time frame for road reopening just yet. This will be a long-term closure."

Nagi on the Route 13 closure (St. Clair Road), which was closed Saturday due to flooding: "Route 113 is still closed. Waiting for an update."