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Rock cleanup begins on Route 209

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    A subcontractor working for New Enterprise Stone and Lime Inc. was on site Wednesday morning trimming trees to get better access to a rock wall along Route 209 near Jim Thorpe. Crews began what is anticipated to be a three-week process of cleaning up a Sept. 8 rock slide.
    PennDOT’s contract with New Enterprise for the rock removal is $354,103. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS

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    A subcontractor working for New Enterprise Stone and Lime Inc. was on site Wednesday morning trimming trees to get better access to a rock wall along Route 209 near Jim Thorpe. PennDOT’s contract with New Enterprise for the rock removal is $354,103. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS

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    Crews inspect a wall of rock Wednesday along the Mansion House Hill near Jim Thorpe, looking for more loose rock after a Sept. 8 rock slide.
    Loose rock will be removed and then hauled away in a dozen tri-axle trucks, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app for a video about the project. “Road Closed” signs located on Route 209 just north of the Bagel Bunch prevent motorists from getting near the rock slide. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS

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    “Road Closed” signs located on Route 209 just north of the Bagel Bunch prevent motorists from getting near the rock slide cleanup site.
    Work will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays Tuesday through Oct. 27. On evenings and weekends, one lane will be open in each direction on the Mansion House Hill.

Published October 12. 2017 12:36PM

One month after a rock slide on the Mansion House Hill between Lehighton and Jim Thorpe, crews began the three-week process of removing the debris Wednesday morning.

A subcontractor working for New Enterprise Stone and Lime Inc. was on site trimming trees to get better access to rock on the wall remaining loose after the fall.

According to Ron Young, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman, workers will then tie themselves to the root system of the trees and chip away at the rock.

“They’ll use air bags to pop the rock out and make it drop,” Young said. “These are specialized people. They came from Colorado, where they have much larger rock mountains, so they know what they are doing. It’s very intricate. It’s not as simple as someone climbing the side of a mountain with a hammer and knocking some rock out.”

After all the loose rock has been knocked to the ground, crews will use a hydraulic hammer to break up the big chunks. Lastly, around a dozen tri-axle trucks will be loaded with the rock and haul it away.

Overseeing the project for PennDOT is construction manager Calvin Ulshafer. He said crews did the best they could to evaluate the situation and make things safe immediately after the rocks fell on Sept. 8.

“Engineers went out, they saw what was still loose and that is where we are starting today,” Ulshafer said. “At the end of each day of work, an engineer on site will determine that the road is safe enough to open each night to traffic.”

Young called the rock slide a natural occurrence.

“Weather conditions can erode at a rock, and when it gets loose, it can come down,” Young said. “It’s much like at your house if you have a loose shingle and a heavy rainstorm washes it off.”

Work will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays through Oct. 27. On evenings and weekends, one lane will be open in each direction on the Mansion House Hill.

Route 209 is closed just south of Highland Beverage on Susquehanna Street and just north of the Bagel Bunch on the Lehighton side.

Message boards and signs at the Mahoning Turnpike Interchange direct vehicles from southbound Route 209 onto the detour, starting at Harrity Road. They’ll end up at Route 903 using Fairyland, Long Run and Maury roads.

Coming from Penn Forest Township and points to the north, message boards and signs on southbound Route 903 will direct traffic onto that detour in the opposite direction at Maury Road.

For people in Jim Thorpe who need to get to Lehighton, the detour could add up to 20 minutes to the trip.

Most of the work removing the loose rock from the wall will be done by hand, Ulshafer said.

“We can’t go in and do this with machines, that could cause even more damage,” he added. “Anything loose enough to fall during a freeze-thaw cycle we have to try and get out of there. This crew will be rappelling from the side of the mountain using hammers, chisels, bars and air bags to try and get that done. From there, everything that is on the ground we’ll dig it up and haul it away.”

In addition to removing the loose rock, crews will be installing wire and mesh where they feel it’s necessary. All of the work in the next three weeks leads up to another project next year which Penn­DOT hopes will address future slides.

“We’re looking at a further stretch of the mountain, where we’ll likely remove more rock scale and put up mesh,” Young said. “That project is currently in design, but we’re looking at next summer to do the work. Even after that drivers have to be vigilant because sometimes the smaller rocks can get through the mesh.”

Young should know. He was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when a rock fell and damaged his wheel.

“Anytime you are driving along a rocky mountainside, you have to be alert,” he said. “When we post falling rock signs somewhere, it’s because we know that is an area where that is a distinct possibility.”

PennDOT’s contract with New Enterprise is $354,103. Young did not have an estimate for the work that will occur next summer.

 

 

 

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