Established to foster a better understanding and closer cooperation between geologists and civil engineers in the highway industry, the Highway Geology Symposium (HGS) was organized and held its first meeting on March 14, 1950, in Richmond, Virginia.
Attending the inaugural meeting were representatives from state highway departments (as referred to at the time) from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. In addition, a number of federal agencies and universities were represented. Nine technical papers were presented.
W. T. Parrott, an engineering geologist with the Virginia Department of Highways, chaired the first meeting. It was Mr. Parrott who originated the Highway Geology Symposium.
It was at the 1956 meeting that future HGS leader, A.C. Dodson, began his active role in participating in the Symposium. Mr. Dodson was the Chief Geologist for the North Carolina State Highway and Public Works Commission, which sponsored the seventh HGS meeting.
Since the initial meeting, 52 consecutive annual meetings have been held in 32 different states. Between 1950 and 1962, the meetings were held east of the Mississippi River, with Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee serving as host states.
In 1962, the Symposium moved west for the first time to Phoenix, Arizona where the 13th annual HGS meeting was held. Since then it has alternated, for the most part, back and forth from the east to the west. The Annual Symposium has moved to different locations as follows:
Unlike most groups and organizations that meet on a regular basis, the Highway Geology Symposium has no central headquarters, no annual dues, and no formal membership requirements. The governing body of the Symposium is a steering committee composed of approximately 20-25 engineering geologist and geotechnical engineers from state and federal agencies, colleges and universities, as well as private service companies and consulting firms throughout the country. Steering committee members are elected for three-year terms, with their elections and re-elections being determined principally by their interests and participation in and contribution to the Symposium. The officers include a chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, and treasurer, all of whom are elected for a two- year term. Officers, except for the treasurer, may only succeed themselves for one additional term.
A number of three-member standing committees conduct the affairs of the organization. The lack of rigid requirements, routing, and relatively relaxed overall functioning of the organization is what attracts many of the participants.
Meeting sites are chosen two or four years in advance and are selected by the Steering Committee following presentations made by representatives of potential host states. These presentations are usually made at the steering committee meeting, which is held during the Annual Symposium. Upon selection, the state representative becomes the state chairperson and a member protem of the Steering Committee.
The symposia are generally for two and one-half days, with a day-and-a-half for technical papers and a full day field trip. The Symposium usually begins on Wednesday morning. The field trip is usually Thursday, followed by the annual banquet that evening. The final technical session generally ends by noon on Friday. In recent years, this schedule has been modified to better accommodate climatic conditions and tourism benefits.
The field trip is the focus of the meeting. In most cases, the trips cover approximately from 150 to 200 miles, provide for six to eight scheduled stops, and require about eight hours. Occasionally, cultural stops are scheduled around geological and geotechnical points of interest. To cite a few examples: in Wyoming (1973), the group viewed landslides in the Big Horn Mountains; Florida’s trip (1976) included a tour of Cape Canaveral and the NASA space installation; the Idaho and South Dakota trips dealt principally with mining activities; North Carolina provided stops at a quarry site, a dam construction site, and a nuclear generation site. In Maryland, the group visited the Chesapeake Bay hydraulic model and the Goddard Space Center; the Oregon trip included visits to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood; the Central Mineral Region was visited in Texas; and the Tennessee meeting in 1981 provided stops at several repaired landslides in Appalachia regions of East Tennessee.
In Utah (1988) the field trip visited sites in Provo Canyon and stopped at the famous Thistle Landslide. While in New Mexico in 1990, the emphasis was on rockfall treatment in the Rio Grande River canyon, and included a stop at the Brugg Wire Rope headquarters in Santa Fe.
Mount St. Helens was visited by the field trip in 1994 when the meeting was in Portland, Oregon, while in 1995 the West Virginia meeting took us to the New River Gorge Bridge that has a deck elevation 876 feet above the water.
In Cody, Wyoming, the 1996 field trip visited the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and the Beartooth uplift in northwestern Wyoming. In 1997, the meeting in Tennessee visited the newly constructed future 126 highway in the Blue Ridge of East Tennessee. The Arizona meeting in 1998 visited Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona and a mining ghost town at Jerrome, Arizona. The Virginia meeting in 1999 visited the “Smart Road” Project that was under construction. This was a joint research project of the Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia Tech University. The Seattle Washington meeting in 2000 visited the Mount Rainier area. A stop during the Maryland meeting in 2001 was the Sideling Hill road cut for I-68 which displayed a tightly folded syncline in the Allegheny Mountains.
The California field trip in 2002 provided a field demonstration of the effectiveness of rock netting against rock falls along the Pacific Coast Highway. The Kansas City meeting in 2004 visited the Hunt Subtropolis, which is said to be the “world’s largest underground business complex”. It was created through the mining of limestone by way of the room and pillar method. The Rocky Point Quarry provided an opportunity to search for fossils at the North Carolina meeting in 2005. The group also visited the US-17 Wilmington Bypass Bridge which was under construction. Among the stops at the Pennsylvania meeting were the Hickory Run Boulder Field, the No.9 Mine and Wash Shanty Museum, and the Lehigh Tunnel. The New Mexico field trip in 2008 included stops at a soil nailed wall along US-285/84 north of Santa Fe and a road cut through the Bandelier Tuff on highway 502 near Los Alamos where rockfall mesh was used to protect against rockfall. The New York field trip in 2009 visited the Niagara Falls Gorge and the Devil’s Hole Trail. The Oklahoma field trip in 2010 toured through the complex geology of the Arbuckle Mountains in the southern part of the state along with stops at Tucker’s Tower and Turner Falls.
In the bluegrass region of Kentucky, the 2011 HGS field trip included stops at Camp Nelson which is the site of the oldest exposed rocks in Kentucky near the Lexington and Kentucky River Fault Zones. Additional stops at the Darby Dan Farm and the Woodford Reserve Distillery illustrated how the local geology has played such a large part in the success of breeding prized Thoroughbred horses and made Kentucky the “Birthplace of Bourbon.” In Redding, California, the 2012 field trip included stops at Whiskeytown Lake, which is one in a series of lakes that provide water and power to northern California. Additional stops included Rocky Point, a roadway construction site containing Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA), and Oregon Mountain where the geology and high rainfall amounts have caused Hwy 299 to experience local and global instabilities since first constructed in 1920. The 2013 field trip of New Hampshire highlighted the topography and geologic remnants left by the Pleistocene glaciations that fully retreated approximately 12,000 years ago. The field trip included stops at various overlooks of glacially-carved valleys and ranges; the Old Man of The Mountain Memorial Plaza, which is a tribute to the famous cantilevered rock mass in the Franconia Notch that collapsed on May 3, 2003; lacustrine deposits and features of the Glacial Lake Ammonoosuc; views of the Presidential Range; bridges damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011; and the Willey Slide, location in the Crawford Notch where all members of the Willey family homestead were buried by a landslide in 1826.
At the technical sessions, case histories and state-of-the-art papers are most common; with highly theoretical papers the exception. The papers presented at the technical sessions are published in the annual proceedings. Some of the more recent proceedings may be obtained from the Treasurer of the Symposium or downloaded from the website.
Banquet speakers are also a highlight and have been varied through the years.
A Medallion Award was initiated in 1970 to honor those persons who have made significant contributions to the Highway Geology Symposium. The selection was and is currently made from the members of the national steering committee of the HGS.
A number of past members of the national steering committee have been granted Emeritus status. These individuals, retired, resigned from the HGS Steering Committee, or deceased, have made significant contributions to the Highway Geology Symposium. A total of 35 persons have been granted the Emeritus status.
Several Proceedings volumes have been dedicated to past HGS Steering Committee members who have passed away. The 36th HGS Proceedings were dedicated to David L. Royster (1931-1985, Tennessee) at Clarksville, Indiana meeting in 1985. In 1991, the Proceedings of the 42ndHGS meeting held in Albany, New York was dedicated to Burrell S. Whitlow (1929-1990, Virginia). In 2013 the Proceedings of the 64th HGS held in North Conway, New Hampshire were dedicated to Earl Wright and Bill Lovell. The 2014 Proceedings of the 65th HGS held in Laramie, Wyoming were dedicated to Nicholas Michiel Priznar.