South Branch Road remains closed

LAKE COUNTY— The Lake County Road Commission is reminding residents that South Branch Road remains closed.

Jessica LaPointe, finance and human resources manager for the road commission, said the flood water and groundwater from last July caused damage to the road, making it impassable.

"Immediately after the flooding, they noticed a sinkhole forming on the side of the road," LaPointe said. "To assess the extent of the damage, they had to dig into the sinkhole, and when they did, they found it had undermined the sub-surface of the road, making it unsafe for traffic."

Road commission supervisor Leroy Williams said they did what they could to patch it up enough to alleviate some of the danger and to keep from having a hole left there, but that did not make it safe for traffic.

According to LaPointe, there were 16 sites that were damaged by the flooding, and the road commission dealt with the ones they thought were the most dangerous first.

"All of them have been repaired now, except for South Branch and the 8th Street bridge," she said.

Williams said because South Branch Road is a Class A road — which means it must be able to accommodate large trucks — it has to be repaired up to Class A standards before it can be opened. That means working with MDOT and engineers to determine the extent of the damage and what needs to be done to repair it.

The cost of the project is still uncertain because the LCRC is not sure of the extent of the damage. That will be determined by the engineers, he added.

"The road commission also is working with MDOT to secure disaster funding for the road repairs," LaPointe said. "But the wheels of government move slowly, and right now we are at their mercy."

The county recently received approval for funding from the state disaster contingency fund to help cover the cost of repairs for flood damaged roads, but that will not cover the entire cost. In addition, the county will not receive any funds until the work is completed, LaPointe said.

"Until we can meet the $250,000 threshold, we don't get any of that," LaPointe said. "In addition, there are only certain costs that can be included, and when you take out the cost of labor and equipment, we can only claim about a quarter of the total cost of the road repairs."

Williams said he wants people to understand that even if they get funding today, it will likely be sometime in the summer before the road can be opened to traffic.

"With the winter weather, we really can't do anything," he said. "In addition, we have to see what the engineers say needs to be done, then we have to schedule with the contractors, and their schedules are already set ahead of time. So we have to work with all of that."

The road commission will be putting up additional warning and detour signs to let people know they can't go down that road, he said. The detour will include Wingleton Road to 56th Street.

"We want to get the signage done, because in another month we will have what is known as frost loss where certain roads are restricted," he said. "In the past, tractor-trailers have used South Branch as an alternate route, and they will not be able to do that now."

LaPointe said the road commission would like to encourage the public not to try to drive through the barricades that are there, because it is not safe.

"While the road may not appear to be dangerous, it is not being maintained, and that means there is potentially ice," she added. "In addition, we don't know the extent of the subsurface damage, and if you go off the road, you could end up in the river. It's just not safe."

LaPointe added, there are also heavy fines if you are found driving on the road while it is closed.

"We understand that this has negatively impacted a lot of people — people have had to change their routes," she said. "It is tough on school bus drivers, emergency vehicles, mail carriers and even the plow trucks, but we want everyone to understand that because it is rated a Class A road, it has to be repaired up to Class A standards before it can be opened."