Visitors to the Beartooth Highway should have been in boats, not cars.

The scenic highway winding through the Montana and Wyoming mountains was impassable in early 2005, thanks to heavy rains that caused landslides and road washouts in several places. The powerful runoff that flowed down the mountain-sides crossed the highway more than a dozen times and displaced nearly 100,000 cubic yards of soil and rock, rendering the road dangerous for travel.

“It was a huge, huge mess,” says Clyde Bennett, erosion control specialist with Billings, Mont.-based Roscoe Steel and Culvert. “It was like a giant standing on the top of stairs, crushing each step on the way down.”

Because the Beartooth Highway is a popular route for tourists headed to resorts and tourist destinations like Yellowstone National Park, the resulting closures caused a major disruption to the local economy, which depends heavily on the vacation trade for survival.

The Montana DOT (MDOT) partnered with a team of consultants and contractors to fast-track repair, with the goal of reopening the road by October 2005. Bennett's firm assisted in the effort by installing erosion control blankets. Because of U.S. Forestry Service requirements to use biodegradable erosion control products in the region, the team specified BioNet, a natural-fiber product made by Evansville, Ind.-based North American Green.

According to Bennett, the collective effort of MDOT crews and their consultants and contractors proved to be a success. The construction team managed to complete the entire project on Oct. 1, two weeks ahead of schedule and $6 million under budget.

“The highway's up and running again, and everyone's happy,” he says. “The use of erosion control blankets will help reduce the risk of anything like that ever happening again.”

The collaborative effort garnered recognition from the American Public Works Association as one of its 2006 Public Works Projects of the Year. Bestowed upon MDOT, primary contractor Kiewit Western Construction, and primary consultant HKM Engineering, the award was given in the Disaster or Emergency Construction Repair category, in the $10 million to $100 million range.