61 slide near Signal Hill could cost nearly $5M

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 2004

[11/21/04]It’s unlikely that when he wrote the lyrics, “The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip-sliding away,” Paul Simon had U.S. 61 in mind.

But that’s exactly what’s happening still happening to a half-mile stretch near Signal Hill.

Sean Ferguson, state geotechnical engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said the worsening slide is a “minor problem” that hasn’t posed any threat to the overall stability of the road.

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“It’s obviously not stable, but there’s nothing to indicate that it will be an immediate problem as far as the highway being in jeopardy,” Ferguson said.

Stabilization and repairs, however, could cost about $5 million.

“I see funding being a pretty big item as far as how it gets fixed and what gets done,” Ferguson said. “There are several possible solutions.”

Ferguson compared the Signal Hill slide to one in Jefferson County that cost $1 million to fix.

“This one is a good bit bigger,” he said. And major repairs probably won’t start until at least springtime, he said. Signs now warn people to slow down due to the dips and rough ride ahead.

At one time, the road rose steeply to the peak of Signal Hill, then one of the highest points in Warren County. When the U.S. 61 bypass south of the city was built nearly 40 years ago, the top of the hill was sliced off and placed on the north side of the slope. It was in that fill area that new lanes were built, and although vast underground drains were engineered, the lanes were slip-sliding away as early as the 1970s.

Within the 3,000-foot stretch, there were three landslides. MDOT spent $1.5 million making repairs, Ferguson said.

“Two of the three have not been a problem. This third slide, not long after they fixed it, began to creep,” he said.

“For the last two months, we’ve been trying to get a handle on defining the problem,” Ferguson said. That has included installing equipment to measure how much the slope is slipping. So far, engineers have had no cause for alarm.

“Even at this point, it’s moving relatively slowly as far as slides work,” Ferguson said.

In the meantime, workers are patching cracks as they appear, said Lucy Hurst, assistant district engineer in charge of maintenance.

“Once it cracks open and slides, we go back and overlay,” she said.

MDOT is in the process of hiring a geotechnical consultant to help with the design of the repairs, Ferguson said. They should name a firm within a few months, he said.