Boulder removal rocks The Gap
IF you think your job has its challenges, imagine chipping away at a mountain-side 70 metres above a highway with hand tools while anchored with abseiling gear.
It’s all in a day’s work for a team of specialist contractors brought in by the Department of Main Roads to prise away unstable boulders – some weighing more than 20 tonnes each – from the cliff face at Cunningham’s Gap.
While the work has caused major headaches for motorists and local freight companies due to highway closures, there can be no doubt it’s an impressive effort happening up above.
The rock removal is necessary due to heavy rain during summer, which while it fortunately failed to produce the massive highway landslides seen at The Gap in recent years, still managed to loosen large sections of the cliff.
While a permanent fix for The Gap landslide area – such as massive concrete barriers driven metres deep – could be years and millions of dollars away, the current boulder battering should ensure short-term safety for the thousands of vehicles which traverse the danger zone daily.
A Main Roads spokeswoman told the Daily News the work was going to plan, with road closures set to continue until the project’s expected completion by the end of May, weather permitting.
“On Wednesday a significant portion, approximately 23 tonnes of the remaining boulder overhang on the rock wall face at The Gap, was removed successfully,” she said.
“This was done without any damage to the road surface.
“Motorists have been very patient with the two by two-hour (daily) closures to the Cunningham Highway and the Department appreciates their ongoing understanding as works are finalised.”
The spokeswoman said the project was being jointly funded by the State Government and Canberra but due to the nature of the work, the full cost will not be known until completion.
“The Department has engaged specialist contractors to do the work,” she said.
“Golder Associates are advising on the geotechnical aspects such as the condition of the rock face and which boulders and other areas of the rock face need to be removed.
“Height Dynamics are an abseiling company specialising in maintenance, cleaning, inspection and repair of facades as well as geotechnical rock stabilisation and surveys.
“Due to the nature of the work, the abseilers assess the rock face and using hand tools such as specialised picks and bars to remove loose rock and debris.
“There is no blasting carried out in this project, all repair work is done by hand.”
The Main Roads spokeswoman said the work was dangerous for motorists due to the proximity of the rock wall face to the highway.
“This is why the works are done during two by two-hour closures each day,” she said.
“It’s also dangerous for those carrying out the work due to the significant damage caused by the February and March rain.
“To ensure the safety of all involved, a great deal of coordination is required between all parties, from those in charge of closing the road each day through to the abseilers and crew on the highway.”
She said the largest overhanging sections of damaged rock had now been removed and the crew were now working on removing other loose rock and debris.