WOODSTOCK — Growling machines and hoses filled with cement are breaking the silence and taking up the width of Tower Road as the long-awaited repair project begins to give the road shape.
Jeff Boyer, an environmental specialist with the Virginia Department of Transportation, said the job, which was estimated to take two to three weeks and cost roughly $350,000, has been stretched out due to a range of factors.
Looming larger than any other problem is the lack of space, Boyer said. Tight road conditions and swerving switchbacks on the way up to the key injured area make the trek for regular vehicles precarious. Crews from VDOT and GeoStabilization Incorporated, the contractor VDOT is using for the bulk of the repair work, have to move a concrete truck up and down the mountain along with a special piece of equipment to fire soil nails into the side of the mountain and a crane to hold crew members while they work.
Woodstock Tower Road has been closed since last winter. Each spring, VDOT officials inspect the road before it reopens but this year the inspection showed a large piece of the road washed away, keeping it from being reopened.
On Thursday afternoon, with the sun peeking through the trees but temperatures remaining low, two GSI workers stood off the side of the mountain, spraying concrete at the side of the road, slowly but surely expanding the lane.
The job is straightforward, Boyer explained, but time and space intensive. GSI devised a system of firing steel rods into the side of the mountain road and covering them with mesh to create the outline of a wall. More steel rods are fired into the ground vertically, creating an A-frame that concrete and grout fill in.
Crews are working to repair a large chunk of missing road, filling in the sides of about 100 feet of the road with anywhere from 6 to 12 inches of shotcrete — concrete shot out of a hose with compressed air.
Boyer said this was the most dangerous part of the job. If something is going to go wrong, he said, it would come while crews are spraying concrete.
After working 10- to 14-hour days, six days a week, the GSI crew is starting to wear down, Boyer said, as one small problem after another has pushed the brakes since the job started in late October.
Everything from equipment breakdowns to the material issues has pushed the project back — almost to the point where the road will close down for the winter before it gets used.
Despite the slow-going, crews have made the most of the time and space they have. Roughly 30 feet had been completed on Thursday afternoon and work was going smoothly as the crew approached the largest breach in the road.
At its largest failure, Boyer said the crew will have to spray 12 inches of shotcrete to fill the gap and repair the road.
Boyer said he was impressed with GSI, the work ethic of the crew facing a prolonged job, and that VDOT went with them because of the warranty they put on their work.
Most jobs like this, Boyer said, don’t come with any kind of guarantee. The sticker price for the job was about the same from every company he said, but none of the others offered a warranty on their work.
Quality, sustainable work is important to VDOT, Boyer said, not only for citizens who want access to the mountain but to the Forest Service, which VDOT has been working with throughout the process.
Because the road runs through a national forest, Boyer said there’s always a question about who owns what. He said those discussions are never brought up and both sides prefer to work together, taking joint ownership of the space rather than haggling over who is responsible for different sections.
Boyer said he estimated the job would be finished by Nov. 27, later than he expected but right in line with what VDOT told the public to expect.