COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio has 5,300 hillside areas at risk of sending rocks onto nearby highways and spends $16 million a year preventing or cleaning up slides, according to the state Department of Transportation.
All 88 counties have such areas, department spokesman Joel Hunt told The Columbus Dispatch for a Thursday report. Crews are working in eight counties to stabilize hillsides or clean up fallen rocks, and 37 summer projects are planned.
Hillsides have been made steeper for roadways along Ohio rivers, said state engineer Jim Graham. Rock cracks fill with rainwater that freezes and melts, making them vulnerable.
"It's a combination of topography and geology," said Graham, who has worked in part of eastern Ohio known for falling rocks.
Rockslides gained attention last week when a boulder weighing roughly 100 tons crushed a car and damaged a home, utility poles, and a water line in Athens in southeast Ohio.
The transportation department had used chain-link fencing to stop such rockslides from reaching roadways, but repairs proved costly so concrete barriers were built along shoulders, Graham said. Ditches were also built to catch slipping rocks.
Slides are common enough in some areas that road closures aren't considered unusual. Four sections of roadway are closed on state Route 7 along the Ohio River.
"It's a cultural thing," said Becky Giauque, a spokeswoman for the transportation district that includes seven eastern Ohio counties. "It's something people in this part of the state live with.
"If you're driving along Route 7, you use caution."
Crews are cutting away rock — the most expensive stopgap — along the Route 7 roadway where a slide in March 2011 led Gov. John Kasich to declare an emergency.
"We just can't put up a fence there. It's a much bigger issue," Graham said.
A slide has killed at least one person, an Ironton man whose car was crushed in 1986 on state Route 52 in Lawrence County at Ohio's southern tip.
Other cars have been damaged, and the state Supreme Court in 2001 ruled the transportation department was not negligent when rocks destroyed two tires on a woman's car on state Route 125 in Brown County in southwest Ohio.