Slope failures in the United States are the most destructive of natural occurrences annually. While natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes are visually the more damaging and terrifying, it is the cumulative effect of slope failures that are much more widespread and economically devastating. Each year, slope failures such as rock falls and mud slides cost an estimated $1-2 billion dollars.
Later this month I will have the opportunity to visit the site of the major rockslide which occurred along Interstate 40 in Tennessee by the North Carolina border. The I-40 rockslide occurred October 25, 2009 at 2 am and immediately gained national attention due to it’s massive size. However, the debris left behind measured over 50 ft high, 100 ft long, and 200 ft wide. At the time, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) estimated cleanup and repairs to take over four months and the realized costs to exceed $10 million. During cleanup, however, a second rockslide occurred along the same stretch of I-40. Luckily, cleanup crews were on a safety break and out of harms way during this slope failure. I-40 has been closed to the public since the initial slide took place and cleanup of the debris and loose material still on the slope is expected to take until June 2010. Realized costs have now exceeded the $10 million expectation and unrealized costs (such as the added costs to detoured traffic along a major trucking route and loss of income to nearby towns from travelers) continue to negatively affect local economy.
TDOT has agreed to allow access to several college student organizations on Friday, February 26th, which is when I will be visiting. During this visit I hope to learn more about the causes of the rock slide and see first hand the clean up process. Weather allowing, I’ll be bringing back some behind-the-scenes insight and photographs as well that most people aside from those actually working at the site, would otherwise never see.
Be on the lookout for information about the rockslide when I return from the trip in late February. Until then, some information and updates on the I-40 rockslide may be found on the TDOT website. CNN.com has a great video of a much smaller rockslide which a news crew, on the way to the major slide, were able to capture on film.