MoDOT has started around-the-clock repairs on I-44 sinkhole that’s forcing miles-long back-ups in Springfield area

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 7:30 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A day after closing off a section of I-44′s westbound passing lanes in the Springfield area because of a sinkhole in the median, MoDOT started around-the-clock repairs that they hope will get the backed-up traffic moving smoothly again by the end of the weekend if not sooner.

”Our goal is to get it done hopefully before Sunday,” said Darin Hamelink, MoDOT District Maintenance Engineer. “We’ve got more rain coming in Sunday, Monday, and it looks like all next week.”

It is because of that rain that the sinkhole first discovered by MoDOT mowers a couple of weeks ago has continued to grow to the point where officials felt they needed to close down the westbound passing lane as a safety precaution because the edge of the hole is within a couple of feet of the guardrail and has caused it to sag a bit.

“We had close to 20 inches of rain in April and May which is a tremendous amount of water and it’s all got to go somewhere,” Hamelink. “It just went downhill and right into the median. I was talking to our geologist and we do have sinkholes all around that area.”

After no work was done on Wednesday, the first day cones were set up to restrict traffic, crews got going on Thursday. First they set up a concrete safety barrier to separate the work area from traffic and then brought in heavy equipment for excavation work around the sinkhole before they started repairing it.

While the sinkhole has exposed the base of one of the pillars to the West Bypass bridge, officials say their only worry is about the I-44 road, not the bridge.

“That bridge is on steel piling to bedrock,” Hamelink explained. “We’ve checked it out. We’re just mainly concerned about the left passing lane (on I-44). We don’t know how big it (the sinkhole) is. We’re hoping to contain it within the median. And there is the possibility it could get into the left passing lane which is why its closed.”

Workers will fill the hole with various-sized rocks ranging from 24-inches down to 1-inch, plus geofabric and soil to help prevent erosion.

But if they find the sinkhole has infringed on the pavement, more extensive work will have to be done.

“We would have to reestablish the base under the road and resurface it with either concrete or asphalt repair,” Hamelink said.

It’s hard to believe that a five-foot diameter hole is causing such a major problem but 60,000 cars usually pass through that Springfield stretch of I-44 every day compared to only half that total on either side of where the interstate runs through the northern part of the city.

MoDOT has placed signs as far away at just east of Marshfield some 30 miles away warning drivers of the impending bottleneck they’ll face when they hit the Springfield stretch of I-44 and are encouraging people to take Highway 65 south to James River Freeway and then following that road until it reconnects with I-44.

It’s quite a detour south but the added minutes are nothing compared to the back-up on the interstate which is running anywhere from 2-4 miles depending on the time of day. The Traffic Management Center did note that waiting times on Thursday were less than Wednesday because drivers were heeding the warnings and taking alternate routes.

But many of those passing through the area from around the country who don’t know about the source of the problem may be left dumbfounded when they go through long waits of single-lane traffic only to see nothing like an accident or other road obstruction that should have slowed things down.

“Especially going 70 miles per hour you’d never see it,” Hamelink said of the sinkhole, which was hidden behind a guardrail until excavation work turned it into a much bigger chasm. “But it has increased in size with the rain and we did see cracks in that passing lane. We could have left it open another day but our concern was with the heavy truck loads, etc. we didn’t want to take a chance.”

While Sunday is the goal don’t be surprised if the 24-hour-a-day repairs get done much sooner. It just depends on what problems if any the crews run into during their efforts to fix the problem.

“We do appreciate the public’s patience with us,” Hamelink said. “This is just one of those things that just came up all of a sudden. If you know the Ozarks we’ve got caves and sinkholes everywhere. Unfortunately it’s just the topography that we live in.”

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