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Preparing For the Unexpected: PennDOT District 9’s Response to Landslides Resulting from Heavy April Rains

June 24, 2024 11:00 AM
By: Jay Knarr

​Bucking the traditional use of the proverb, it was the month of April that came in like a lion, dropping record amounts of rain on Hollidaysburg-based District 9 and across the state, resulting in a rise of damaging landslides and road washouts.

In Cambria County alone, the 7.88 inch rainfall total of April 2024 was almost double of that of the 4.00 inch rainfall from April 2022, and nearly triple the amount of the 2.69 inches in April 2023.The pattern was similar across all counties in District 9.​

Like other PennDOT districts experiencing heavy rainfall, District 9 experienced an increase in landslides and roadway washouts associated with the increased rainfalls. The higher than usual number of landslides and washouts demanded immediate response and collaboration of District 9's Maintenance, Design and Construction Units – as well as the additional assistance of contractors already working on the spring's planned construction projects.

Dave Kammerer, P.E., District 9 assistant district executive for maintenance, indicated that County Maintenance Units typically provide emergency response for landslide events. The response typically involves either closing the roadway or applying lane restrictions, then placing appropriate traffic controls. Detour signs are placed to safely guide motorists around compromised roadways, while lane restrictions facilitate safe travel for a roadway that is partially affected by a landslide or washout.2024 Rainfall in D9 (003).jpg

After the County Maintenance Unit provides initial emergency response and ensures safe travel, Maintenance collaborates with the District Geotechnical and District Construction Units to assess the severity of the landslide/washout event to strategize repairs. Typically, the Maintenance Unit addresses smaller scale, less complicated, typical repairs. However, more extensive road washouts and landslides involve more complex repairs and construction techniques and require the involvement of the District Design and Construction Units.

Repairs for more complex landslide repairs involve several steps, including securing emergency or other funding, surveying the landslide area, site reconnaissance and performing subsurface investigation, slope stability analysis, developing plans and quantities, calculating cost estimate, emergency contracts, construction schedules, and securing contractor to perform the slope and road repairs. Depending on the project, additional authorizations may be required, such as obtaining environmental and utility clearances, and the permission of any property owners.

When emergencies occur in District 9, such as those related to unexpected heavy rainfall, emergency procurement procedures may be used to expediate repairs to fully re-open roadways as quickly as possible. Vince Greenland, P.E., district executive for District 9, stated that authorization to use emergency procurement procedures may be warranted when there is a threat to public health, welfare, and safety of the traveling public. While the Commonwealth does allocate funding for emergency situations like flooding, depending on the number of emergency events that occur in a given fiscal year that amount can be quickly exhausted. To supplement depleted emergency funding, PennDOT District 9 works closely with the PennDOT's Program Center to identify funding sources, make necessary repairs, and re-open roadways as quickly as possible. In this case, Greenland said federal PROTECT funding was available for the landslide related repairs. PROTECT funding provides PennDOT additional opportunity to plan for extreme weather events and construct resilient infrastructure. Projects are evaluated for potential protect funding using the PROTECT Formula Program and Protect Eligibility form. 

Like winter road maintenance, PennDOT's response to landslides and roadway washouts is to plan for the worst and a be prepared for the unexpected. ​

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