Rock-climbing has always seemed hairy to me. But rock-climbing while cars and buses and 18-wheelers zoom by beneath your boots seems really hairy, which is why I’ve found the stretch of the eastbound Schuylkill Expressway just before the Conshohocken Curve highly disconcerting for the past few months. Not only is the shoulder blocked off with Jersey barriers; guys are rock-climbing on the stone above the highway.
“It’s a combination climbing wall and construction project,” PennDOT spokesman Eugene Blaum says, deadpan, when I call to ask what’s going on, forever putting to rest the rumor that PennDOT has no sense of humor. The $2,284,286 roadwork is intended to stabilize half a mile of the hillside, which was the site of serious falling-rock problems after heavy rains in September of 2011.
“Some good-size rocks came down,” Blaum explains. So last August, work crews began the task of “scaling,” or chipping loose rocks away by hand while dangling from the cliff face. Next came drilling anchor bolts into the rock, to redistribute the weight load into the stronger interior. Trees and underbrush have been removed, and in the final steps, wire mesh will be installed over much of the rock, to hold any future breakage in place. The project is similar to work done a few years ago on an eroded hillside a little further east.
Through next Saturday, the right lane along the work site is slated to close completely to motorists from 10 at night till five in the morning. The good news is, the work should be finished by Christmas, Blaum says. Then we can all get back to flooring it as we rush into town for the Mummers Parade.