rock slide 4

A boulder rests on the road from a rock fall on Monongahela Boulevard on Feb. 10, 2020.

The WVU Board of Governors approved $2.9 million in funding to a hillside remediation project along Monongahela Boulevard in a meeting Friday.

In February, a large boulder fell from the hillside and struck a vehicle driving on the road as well as a nearby PRT car, resulting in multiple injuries. The boulder fell from University owned land, but the WV Department of Highways has a Right-of-Way agreement to use the land. 

University Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop said, following a structural review of the hillside with consultants and the Department of Highways, the University determined that additional measures were needed to prevent future rockslides.

The plan will involve the stabilization of a 400-foot long sandstone bed and building a 1,600-foot barrier fence.

Steven Kite, WVU geology professor, said the hillside has been prone to rock slides for a long time. The name ‘Monongahela’ comes from the Lenape language of the Delaware Tribe and translated means “river of falling banks.”

Since the building of Monongahela Blvd in the 1960s and subsequent expansion from a two-lane road to a four-lane road, Kite said the marginally stable slope has become even less stable.

He also said the geological composition of the hillside is partially to blame.

"If that whole cut was sandstone, we wouldn't have a problem," Kite said. "The problem is it's like kind of an Oreo cookie."

He said the upper layer of sandstone is resting on a middle layer that is like a “really thick creamy inside filling of very weak shale.” As water freezes and expands in between the shale, it erodes in thumbnail size pieces.

The top sandstone layer, or what Kite describes as the top of an Oreo cookie, crumbles and falls as the shale filling erodes. Cold temperatures and rain in winter trigger erosion, which was the exact condition of the area when the February rockslide occurred. 

Alsop said the project does not have a timeline yet, but he hopes construction can begin soon. Conversations about funding from the Department of Highways are on-going, but he doesn’t anticipate requesting more University funding. 

Alsop said Friday’s approval is only the first step of the project.

"What we got from our Board was the go-ahead to participate with the Department of Highways and work forward through with the project,” Alsop said.