Roane County residents frustrated with road closure after flooding

Investigations

Some people in Roane County say they don’t understand why a main road into Harriman is closed. Riggs Chapel Road was hit hard by flood damage from last month’s record rainfall. They’re upset about a long detour and having little information about it. 

A temporary traffic light on Bowman Bend Road in Roane County allows only one vehicle at a time to drive down the two lanes. More than a foot of rain last month loosened the hillside on Bowman Bend causing it to give way.

About a two and a half mile section of Riggs Chapel Road that hugs the ridgeline next to the Emory River is closed. Concrete barriers are set up to keep traffic off the road at both ends.

WATE 6 On Your Side met with more than a dozen people who drive the road to downtown Harriman. A detour now takes them into Morgan County. They don’t understand why the road is closed.

“It only took me five minutes to go the other way,” said Charlene Taylor. “[It now takes me] 20 minutes.”

“It’s just the nuisance having to go around to take your kids to school, go to work,” said Kim Webb.

Road Superintendent Dennis Ferguson said boulders slid down the rocky hillside about ten days ago, creating another safety issue.

“This is a failure that has happened just this week,” he said.

Ferguson then pointed to a hole in the road.

“And that is hollow right there, under there. Now also along the river, we’ve got a movement going on under here that you can’t see on the riverside,” said Ferguson.

There are even more problems further down Riggs Chapel Road.

“We have a failure again where the ground has moved and the road has fallen in,” Ferguson said.

From the side of the road, it’s a straight shot down to the river.

“If that was to give right there, it would take all of this out. There is nothing to hold it there,” he said.

Beginning last week, drilling began into the steep hillside along Riggs Chapel Road. They’re taking soil and rock samples to determine the depth and stability of the ridgeline. The road superintendent said he’s consulted with engineers about what to do with Riggs Chapel Road. They suggested shifting the road. 

At Bowman Bend Road, a huge washout gouged a big dent into the hillside undermining the road’s stability. Engineers have suggested to Ferguson that Bowman Bend also be shifted over and the hillside removed. The two expensive projects are under consideration by the Roane County Commission. 

“If everybody knew what was going on, they probably wouldn’t be as disappointed as they are now,” said resident Jack Morton.

“I don’t like to shut any roads down, don’t want to inconvenience anybody, but this is a situation that is about safety,” Ferguson said.

He said the road could be closed for up to two years.

Information about road closures is posted daily at the road superintendent’s office and questions are answered as quickly as possible on the road department’s Facebook page.

“I don’t want people driving on an unsafe road. I want a good road. We have to deal with what we’ve got. I want to get it opened up as soon as I can,” Ferguson said.

If Roane County gives the go-ahead for repairs as engineers have suggested, and if federal and state dollars are approved, it’s estimated that the county would be responsible for about 20 percent of the $8 million price tag to fix the roads.

Ferguson says he understands why the residents are frustrated and he is too.

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