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Video Report: Rock wall from Auburn Highway 49 crash torn down, rebuilt

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Two days after a big rig failed to squeeze past a rock wall on narrow, winding Highway 49 into the American River canyon east of Auburn, part of the wall had been torn down and was being rebuilt Monday. The rock retaining wall — an outcropping believed to be a historic holdover from 1930s road construction — was in the process of being replaced Friday, with work scheduled to be completed this week. Gordon McCarty, of the wall contractor Parsons Rock Walls, said the extra work should keep employees on the job through Wednesday — adding a day to the construction project. Workers were off the job Saturday morning when the tractor-trailer rig rounded a blind turn and wedged solidly onto the side of the freshly constructed wall. On Monday, heavy equipment moved in early to demolish part of the damaged wall on the eastern end of the project. The wall was then rebuilt and some tree branches had been cleared below the job site. Shelley Lorello, whose home is just off the road, said the private contracting business replaced a section that had broken loose during the accident. “They’re removing it and putting it back pretty well the way it was,” Lorello said. “I don’t get it.” Lorello said she expects more accidents with the rock wall if it stays the way it is. She suggests moving it back about two feet. A Caltrans spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. Parsons gained the contract in a bidding process. The accident Saturday also damaged the rig’s drive train, which delayed it being towed out of the canyon until a larger tow truck could be brought in. The road was closed to eastbound traffic for almost two hours while smaller vehicle able to move past the truck on the narrow road were allowed through on a delayed basis. Auburn city historian Loreley Hodkins said that ownership of the wall — built as part of the Works Progress Administration around 1934 — had been in dispute for several years with Caltrans finally taking responsibility for it in recent years. Highway 49 itself — a winding descent into the canyon with many tight turns — was initially a toll road constructed in 1865 as a transportation link to the Auburn railway station, Hodkins said. McCarty said quite a bit of the original wall has been retained and a decision was made Monday to clear more brush to expose some of the 74-year-old handiwork. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com, or leave a comment online at auburnjournal.com.