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High water gone, but road problems remain

It’s been more than a month since the last of four major flash-flooding events hit the Charlotte region, but the impact of this summer’s heavy rain continues to provide work for road crews across the area.

State crews have spent millions of dollars replacing culverts, bridges and sections of roads washed away by floods in June and July. But problems continue to develop.

About 10 days ago, a chartered bus carrying U.S. Army reservists to an armory in Salisbury turned on its side after the bus skidded from N.C. 150/152 onto the grassy side of the road. N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Brett Marr said the grass gave way because the ground was softened by frequent heavy rains. The bus slid down an embankment and turned on its side.

Officials say 43 soldiers were hurt.

At the N.C. Department of Transportation office in Raleigh, authorities say they haven’t heard of other situations this summer when road shoulders gave way and caused traffic wrecks. But they say road shoulders are quite soft in some areas. Brett Canipe, district engineer in Mecklenburg County for the state DOT, says some road shoulders definitely have been damaged by heavy rain.

“Whole shoulders were washed out,” Canipe said. “There was an incident like that on Mallard Creek Road. The road itself was OK, but the shoulder was washed away.”

Some parts of the Charlotte region have received an estimated 18 to 20 inches of rain since June 1. Canipe said the road shoulders are in the same shape as many residents’ lawns.

“Think about what your yard is like,” he said. “Now just imagine that on the side of the roads.”

Mecklenburg County’s DOT office completed the last of the major summer flood repair projects last week, reopening Gilead Road in Huntersville. Crews are scheduled to put final coats of asphalt on the road this week, but motorists are able to use the east-west thoroughfare again.

“That was a particularly challenging project,” Canipe said. “The stream under the road was carrying an immense amount of water during the storm. The pipe simply couldn’t handle the flow.”

Crews decided to replace the pipe, which required additional work. That was why the project took several weeks more than other repair work in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Stanly and Anson counties.

The hardest-hit area was Catawba County, where dozens of roads were closed when 10 to 12 inches of rain fell on the morning of July 27. According to the N.C. DOT, 18 roads remain closed. Most of those are in the Newton and Conover areas. Another three roads in Lincoln County remain closed due to the same storm. There also are scattered problems in the North Carolina mountains, including N.C. 194 near Elk Park in Avery County. State officials say it will be November before that road is reopened.

Canipe said motorists should use caution when driving in rain.

“The road shoulders could be soft,” he said. “Just use common sense.”

Steve Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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