Crews work to rescue crumbling rural road

It’s one thing to patch a few chuckholes. It’s quite another to rush against time to save an entire road from crumbling.

This week, crews from the Bartholomew County Highway Department began efforts to prevent a 150-foot section of Wolf Creek Road, about a mile south of Old Nashville Road, from falling about 30 feet into a creek.

“We’re really into uncharted territory here,” county highway engineer Danny Hollander said.

The problem goes back to July 12 and 13, when up to 4 inches of rain fell in western Bartholomew County.

Many people who live in the hills near Brown County vividly recall the early part of that week, when storms also brought wind gusts in excess of 70 mph, widespread power outages, flooded properties, multiple water rescues and uprooted trees.

While most of the damage has been addressed over the past seven weeks, conditions along this section of Wolf Creek have gotten worse, Bartholomew County Commissioners Chairman Larry Kleinhenz said.

In fact, the continued erosion caused by heavy traffic has moved the road dangerously close to the edge of Wolf Creek, Hollander said.

“The whole bank — from underneath the road all the way down to the creek level — is shifting,” the highway engineer said.

Another danger from the steep drop-off is the fact that southbound motorists drive over a blind hill right before they encounter the crumbling blacktop, Hollander said.

In order to stabilize the bank, county workers are installing a retaining wall made of boxes of wire filled with stacked stones along the steep slope, county highway site supervisor David Moore said.

“Once we get the first row in, we’ll stair-step it back to keep the road from pushing into the creek,” Moore said. “It will also keep the creek from eroding the bank further toward the road.”

That section of Wolf Creek Road is scheduled to be closed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until the work is completed, currently scheduled for Sept. 11.

But since crews have just begun clearing the banks of Wolf Creek to make way for the retaining wall, a number of unforeseen problems may be uncovered, Hollander said.

“We really don’t know what we’re getting into,” Hollander said.

For that reason, the highway engineer warned the closing might have to be extended further into the month.