Road Patrol: WVU researchers looking to prevent rockslides on rural West Virginia roads

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – You’ve probably seen rockslides on a West Virginia road in your lifetime–they’re not as uncommon as you think.

Think about the rock that fell in Morgantown in February of 2020 that crushed a vehicle and ran into a PRT car between WVU’s Downtown and Evansdale campuses, injuring several people.

WVU researchers are hoping to bring rockfalls like this one to a stop with some techniques. First, we have to understand why rockslides happen.

The Director of WVU’s Constructed Facilities Center Hota GangaRao says there are multiple factors.

Director of WVU’s Constructed Facilities Center Hota GangaRao. (WBOY Image)

“Freezing, thawing type of a phenomena, and also a few others such as incline and overburden or redirection water flow for one reason or another,” said Hota Gangarao.

Gangarao and his colleague, associate professor Yoojung Yoon, said there are three steps to make sure that rock slides won’t happen. The framework is rockfall hazard assessment, prioritization and sensitivity analysis.

“The paper basically we begin to prioritization framework that prioritizes different design options for rockfall countermeasures,” said Yoon.

Yoojung Yoon, Associate Professor at WVU’s Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. (WBOY Image)

Every hillside is different though, and there are different methods to keeping the rocks on the hillside where they belong.

“One of them is you drill horizontally into the rock and then provide some type of reinforcement into the drilling hole and pump the grout,” said Gangarao.

The other method Gangarao explained is providing a retaining structure with a gap between the retaining structure and sliding rock, which would keep the rocks on the hillside.

WVU researchers are hoping to stop rockfalls on rural roads in West Virginia. (WBOY Image)

There are many more designs in the project, including active and passive designs. Active design is intended to mitigate the risk of rockfalls through prevention work at rockfall sources. The passive design focuses on protecting the at-risk road structures from rockfall events.

An active design example is steel rock bolts, which must be changed or maintained periodically, and a passive design example is shotcrete, where maintenance is not needed, as long as the material does not deteriorate with aging.

While the project isn’t quite finished yet, the pair are hoping to implement some of their research into West Virginia hillsides by next summer–to hopefully protect you and your family driving below.

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