One fallen rock could be sign of a bigger problem

(WBIR - Knoxville) Almost a half dozens cars suffered damage Friday after hitting a rock that fell into the middle of a busy South Knoxville highway.

Matt Cummings was among the many people driving along Chapman Highway, just south of Ye Olde Steakhouse, when his Honda Accord hit the rock.

"It was a pretty good size. I'd say about the size of a basketball. The lady in front of me hit the rock. I saw it at the last minute, swerved, shot it out in the middle of traffic and another car ran over it. That's the story." said Cummings. "It punched a hole in my tire and bent my rim up."

Knoxville Police said of the five vehicles damaged, only one had to be towed. The others were driven away from the scene.

Dr. Robert Hatcher, Jr. is a professor of geology at UT. He said the extreme winter weather East Tennessee has been experiencing the last few weeks could be to blame for the rock that ended up in the road and could possibly lead to more rocks rolling to the ground across our region.

"Since we've had this freeze-thaw cycle several times we may get a few rocks of any size coming down off the road cuts," said Dr. Hatcher. "When water freezes it expands by an increasable amount and as it does so, if it's in cracks or rocks or soil there's a very good chance the expansion could loosen the material, and when the thaw takes place the material could be unstable on the slopes and come down."

TDOT said there are about 960 sites statewide that could present a significant rockfall risk. As a result, TDOT uses the Rockfall Management System to keep track of the locations, which ones could pose a potential problem, and fix them.

Fortunately, no one was hurt during Friday's incident.

TDOT crews will be at the scene at 9:00 a.m. Saturday to remove several small rocks that could pose a threat to drivers. Drivers should expect lane closures.


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