Weather blamed for wreaking havoc along Texas highways

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by GARY REAVES / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on February 9, 2010 at 12:42 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 9 at 6:49 PM

FORT WORTH — Texas Department of Transportation workers were preparing for the worst Monday night, just in case bridges ice over as temperatures dip.

But it's not just the ice that has highway crews concerned.

The recent weather has been rough on area roadways. The rain, ice and more rain has created a unique problem that's popping up all over.

From soil sliding down the embankments along Interstate 30 in Grand Prairie... to a similar collapse on Highway 114 in Trophy Club... to last week's buckling of the Bush Turnpike... North Texas roads and highways are taking a beating.

And those are just three of the 50 roadside areas that are experiencing a major shift in soil.

In Fort Worth, engineers have yet to officially determine why a retaining wall is failing, but it looks just like other collapses that are being blamed on the weather.

Taxpayers spend millions to get these projects engineered so they will survive Texas weather, but sometimes you just can't beat Mother Nature.

"What we are having right now is very unusually wet winter weather, and what that's causing is that's causing multiple failures in our embankments," explained TxDOT spokesman Val Lopez.

The highway agency maintains that roads are properly engineered, but the designs simply can't handle this strange weather pattern of rain every three or four days.

Gregory Walker, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service river forecasting office in Fort Worth, backs up that analysis.

"The water tends to work its way down further in the soil, and you get another rain event on top of it, so that eventually, the lower levels start getting saturated as well

Weather service maps show Dallas-Fort Worth is at the epicenter of this unusual pattern. We received up to five inches more rain than is normal in January.

Plus — all those damp, cold and cloudy days means very little of the rainfall is evaporating.

"Any rain that falls, it's just sitting there in the soil, and the soil becomes heavier and more moist and more saturated," Walker explained. "Eventually, gravity kicks in and the weight of the soil — with all the water in it — kicks in."

And that's what makes the soil give way.

"If we have traffic on it, it's safe," said TxDOT's Lopez. "Where we have failures, we keep an eye on it, and we're making plans to fix them when the weather gets better."

TxDOT officials believe it's much cheaper to repair these problems when they occur than to over-engineer project in hopes they never fail.

E-mail greaves@wfaa.com

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