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Slipping Airport Road closed

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‘Concerned we could have a major slide’

By Cindy Simpson

A popular shortcut between Rockwood into Cumberland County has been shut down.

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Roane County Road Superintendent Dennis Ferguson announced the decision to shut down Airport Road immediately Wednesday because of concerns about the stability of the roadway.

“This road has dropped,” he said. “We’ve got some major cracking.”

He said his department was contacted Tuesday by a traveler who almost wrecked because of the shifting roadway.

Significant cracks and sinking had occurred in one area in the Rockwood city limits in particular, with pavement separation of more than an inch and empty space underneath.

Officials said the cracks have been growing wider, evidenced by the spray paint marks the county had applied to monitor the shifts.

“This morning, the road had opened up another 3 inches,” Ferguson said Wednesday. “We’re concerned we could have a major slide with all this rain.”

The road is closed to through-drivers, but the handful of residents who live on the roadway are being allowed to travel to their homes.

Roane County Schools decided this school year to discontinue bus travel on the road.

Emergency response, if needed, would take longer to the area because of the closure.

Scott Stout with Roane County Office of Emergency Services said ambulances, if needed, will have to take Hwy. 70 or Interstate 40 for access.

West Roane County Volunteer Fire officials said they rarely use the roadway, but would likely take Hwy. 70 through Westel now.

Officials said they’d be talking to engineers in the future to see what needs to be done to stabilize or build a new road.

Either option will be costly.

“Rockwood would love to have a new road built there,” Ferguson said. 

“We’ll do everything we can to push for that. The first thing we’ll probably need to do is bring in our engineers ... and assess and see exactly what is going on up there.

“The problem is not in one area,” Frerguson added. “The problem is not something that we could go up there and fix one area and be done. It is in several different places.”

Roane County and Rockwood have had problems with the road before.

In fact, Rockwood officials got local and state officials together last year in an unsuccessful effort to gain support for the construction of a new route.

The roadway provides access for a lot of people who use it to get to Rockwood.

City officials believe it’s vital for supporting its businesses.

Mayor James Watts said he is hopeful local governments can be more successful in getting help for the roadway now.

“I think if he (Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer) looked at it today he would see a different condition. Like an old car, you put a little paint on it and all and fix it up and sell it, let it sit out a little while and all that new paint and Bondo start showing,” Watts said. “It sheds a different light on it.”

Ferguson said Airport Road has had problems during most of his lifetime.
“Most of the shifting of the old Airport Road actually occurred after the interstate was built,” Watts said.

Years ago, a couple of stabilization efforts were undertaken on the road.

“There were two places that (were) repaired and where this road failed in the last week is in one of the places,” County road emloyee Tony Brown said.