Helicopter used in Route 11/15 rock-slope project

MARYSVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) – Travelers on I-81 and Route 322 on Thursday caught glimpses of a helicopter hovering over Route 11/15.

“This is unique. We don’t see this very often in this part of the country,” said Brian Moore, a construction engineer for Michael Baker International, the contractor overseeing PennDOT’s rock slope safety improvement project.

The helicopter was brought in to help lay steel mesh on the rock face along the one-mile stretch of road, which was closed for three months on May 1.

“This is important because this corridor was originally cut in the 1930’s. Since then, vegetation and freeze-thaw cycles have dislodged some rocks and made them loose,” Moore said. “This project is removing some loose rocks and putting some protective measures in place, like fencing and steel mesh, to keep those rock from falling down onto traffic.”

Midwest Helicopter Airways Inc. of Willowbrook, Illinois was contracted to do the aerial work. The outfit travels all over the nation to do similar projects.

While a crane could get the job done, Moore says it is much more efficient to use a helicopter. The pilot can scope out the ground below and carefully place the steel mesh over the rock face.

“The mesh is rolled out on the roadway. The helicopter lifts the mesh maybe 400 or 500 feet in the air. The pilot then lowers the free end down to the mountain and the workers on the rock face grab it make a temporary attachment at the top, and then they will start lowering the helicopter and as they do, the mesh rolls out down the slope and the guys are making sure it is lined up correctly,” Moore said.

The one-mile stretch of 11/15 has two rock faces that have to be covered with protective steel mesh. Right now, crews are working on the southern rock face, which is the larger of the two.

“Overall, 20,000 square yards of steel mesh is going up,” Moore said.

After all the steel mesh is in place, which should take two days for the southern rock face, workers will repel down and drill permanent anchors into the rock.

“The project is going well. We still have quite a bit of work to do, but to this point things are progressing nicely,” Moore said.

The road is scheduled to reopen the evening of July 31. The total cost of the project is $16.9 million. The contractor can receive up to $2 million in incentives if the project is finished early, or face stiff monetary penalties if the project runs late.

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