Repairing Damaged Roadways after Catastrophic Rains

In January of 2013, unusually severe rain events throughout western North Carolina caused significant damage to a large number of federal, state and local roads. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were severely affected, leading to road failures, slope de-stabilization and landslides. KCI is working with the Cherokee Department of Transportation (CDOT) to evaluate and design emergency repairs for what grew to more than 70 sites following a second rain event later that year.


The EBCI consists of more than 56,000 acres of land and more than 15,000 enrolled members. Their government includes legislative, judicial and executive branches supported by a complete administration system, including CDOT to administer the Tribal Transportation Program. The agency oversees construction and maintenance of more than 300 road miles and 80 bridges. Although they have a smaller network to maintain than their state counterparts, CDOT also offers additional personal services for Tribal members. “We take care of everything from driveways to bridges as well as major roadways,” said CDOT Program Manager and Tribal member Josh Parker. “We are more small scale so we are able to focus more on the community.”

CDOT initially reached out to KCI for assistance with three slope failures, two of which imperiled the helicopter pad and large fuel tank at their emergency operations center. Repairs, consisting of small retaining structures, were expedited with one site designed in less than 30 days and constructed over the following two months.

Eastern-Band-of-Cherokee-Indians-Multiple-Emergency-Repairs-roadway-damage.jpg Heavy rainfalls created widespread slope and roadway failures throughout the EBCI reservation.

Based upon that success, additional locations were assigned. KCI quickly assembled a multi-disciplinary team to conduct initial site inspections and evaluate the existing conditions before working with CDOT to prioritize the projects based on severity and need.

Many of the slope failure locations were very remote and situated along steep, rocky terrain. Much of the Tribe’s roadway network was built out of necessity over the years in response to residential and commercial development. Many of the impacted roadways are narrow and serve as the only access point for homeowners. Some were unpaved. The isolated locations and varied roadway conditions slowed down initial inspections. In one instance, structural engineer Eric Anderson’s GPS unit instructed him to proceed on foot to his final destination once he’d left the paved roadway.

I’ve lived in the city so long, it was a shock to realize that Tribal members couldn’t just go around the other way. In most cases, there is no alternative route, and when there is one, it could be an hour or longer to make the trip.

Eric D. Anderson, PEProject Manager

Eric D. Anderson, PE

KCI identified sites where alternate approaches could save CDOT money or where a more in-depth solution was needed over original estimates. “We were trying to help them best utilize their resources to manage their roadway network,” said Anderson. “We put ourselves in their place and tried to design solutions in the most economical and beneficial way possible.”

CDOT was maintaining a large inventory of redi-rock block based on a previous design. Program Manager Josh Parker asked KCI to provide an alternate design for that site and also incorporate the material whenever appropriate at other sites.

The KCI team also helped CDOT utilize their existing stockpile of redi-rock blocks (think huge concrete Legos®) that had been purchased based on a previo

us design. Engineers reworked the plans and also tailored designs at other sites to incorporate the excess stock wherever possible. CDOT was then a

ble to use their in-house crews to construct those redi-rock block retaining walls, providing an inexpensive and expedient solution for Tribal members.

The design team’s relationship with CDOT was critical to quickly addressing the volume of slope and roadway failures. “In Cherokee, we are a really tight community and appreciated that we were able to connect with KCI’s team on a personal level,” said Parker. “A lot of times they could anticipate what we were feeling and what we needed to see.”

Engineers were able to exhaust the entire stockpile, avoiding the expense for additional materials at a number of locations, and expediting installation since these components could be installed by CDOT’s in-house construction forces.

The Tribe prefers that non-local partners ‘stand with both feet in Cherokee’, meaning that firms need to get involved in all aspects of the community and move to create committed sustained relationships based on fair business dealings and mutual respect.

We wanted to become a community steward. We’ve tried to be a really good citizen as well as a good engineer for them.

Bryan R. Lawson, PE, LEED AP, CCMSenior Vice President, Construction Management Discipline Manager

Bryan R. Lawson, PE, LEED AP, CCM

Designs for all of the original sites assigned to KCI were completed within budget and many ahead of schedule. The emergency repairs were funded through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief for Federally Owned (ERFO) Roads program, which assists federal agencies, including Federally Recognized Tribes, in repairing public roadways damaged by catastrophic natural disasters. Overall, CDOT received more than $8 million in federal funding for both events.

Narrow roadway widths often created challenges for mobilization of large construction equipment. Since the majority of Shut-In Creek Road was impassable, the roadway had to be closed during construction. Repairs were expedited, and residents quickly regained access to the homes.

Earlier this year, KCI was awarded a second open-end contract to continue designing emergency repairs for slope stabilization and retaining walls. CDOT also selected the firm to prepare construction plans to widen Will Scott Church Road, a capital improvement project not associated with the weather events of 2013.

Eastern-Band-of-Cherokee-Indians-Multiple-Emergency-Repairs-retaining-wall-3 KCI has also worked with EBCI to complete tribal-funded capital improvement projects not associated with slope failures. Along Yellow Hill Road, engineers used redi-rock blocks to hold back the slope below a tribal burial ground and also create additional room to widen the roadway.