Just before 1 p.m. on Tuesday, December 11, a 20-inch-diameter, 20-foot-long gas transmission line exploded within a few yards of the southbound lanes of I-77 near Sissonville, WV.
The explosion leveled four homes and badly burned a fifth home in the surrounding area. The flames from the gas line shot several hundred feet into the air and across both the southbound and northbound lanes of I-77 for a little over an hour until the gas company was able to shut the line off. This resulted in the scorching of 800 feet of the asphalt pavement in both directions.
Large rocks and debris were scattered over the entire interstate from the blast. Guardrails and road signs on both sides of the interstate were badly damaged, as well as a steel grate covering an inlet in the median. Miraculously, no one was killed or even seriously hurt.
Despite being severely burned and damaged by the blast, the 800-foot section of I-77 was replaced and reopened by Wednesday morning. In less than 15 hours, workers from the state Division of Highways, West Virginia Paving and American Asphalt Co. were able to turn the scorched road into a smooth stretch of highway.
Paving companies to the rescue
After the explosion, the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) contacted Chet Rodabaugh, paving manager for West Virginia Paving, located in Dunbar, WV. “They requested us to mill and pave both the northbound and southbound lanes,” he says.
Rodabaugh and West Virginia Paving’s Dispatcher, Dallas Moore, immediately put a plan together to contact a paving crew from that area, call hired haul trucks, and notify the equipment shop of the equipment needed for milling and paving. They also asked American Asphalt of West Virginia, St. Albans, WV, to provide the material to be used.
“Everyone that was asked responded without hesitation and readied themselves and the equipment for what we knew would be a long, cold night of work,” says Rodabaugh.
West Virginia Paving crews and equipment started arriving at the project site at 5 p.m., Tuesday, December 11, and began to survey the damaged road.
“We calculated what we thought it would take for repairs,” says Jack Withrow, Environmental Compliance Officer for West Virginia Paving. “Initially, the WVDOT projected it would take at least 24 hours to get the road milled and paved. I spoke to the paving foreman, Travis Truman, and his response was, ‘We can get it done quicker than that.’”
West Virginia Paving started the rapid response paving process by using two tractor brooms to sweep and clean off the rocks and debris on the northbound lanes of I-77. After this was done, a Wirtgen W150 milling machine was used to mill the northbound and southbound lanes. The average milling depth was 3 inches, but there was a 300-foot section of the southbound lanes closest to the blast that was milled to a depth of 6 inches.
Once the milling was completed on the northbound lanes, the paving crew began to pave the northbound lanes with a Marshall HMA skid-resistant surface mix. Paving was completed around 11:30 p.m., but the crews had to leave the project site in order for the gas company to test its gas lines.
“We were able to get back onto the site around 3 a.m.,” says Withrow. “After the lines were painted, the WVDOT opened up the northbound lanes at 3:30 a.m.”
At 3 a.m., the paving crew started to pave the southbound lanes.
“We laid 306 tons of Marshall HMA base mix in the 300-foot section that was milled to a depth of 6 inches. We then finished paving the southbound lanes around 7:30 a.m. with the Marshall HMA skid-resistant surface mix. The lines were painted, and the WVDOT opened the southbound lanes back up at 8:05 a.m. – 15 hours from the time we arrived at the project site.”