The Highway Geology Symposium:  History, Organization, and Function

Inaugural Meeting

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.

East and West

Since the initial meeting, 69 consecutive annual meetings have been held in 33 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:

List of Highway Geology Symposium Meetings

No.  Year  HGS Location  No.  Year  HGS Location
1st 1950 Richmond, VA 2nd 1951 Richmond, VA
3rd 1952 Lexington, VA 4th 1953 Charleston, WV
5th 1954 Columbus, OH 6th 1955 Baltimore, MD
7th 1956 Raleigh, NC 8th 1957 State College, PA
9th 1958 Charlottesville, VA 10th 1959 Atlanta, GA
11th 1960 Tallahassee, FL 12th 1961 Knoxville, TN
13th 1962 Phoenix, AZ 14th 1963 College Station, TX
15th 1964 Rolla, MO 16th 1965 Lexington, KY
17th 1966 Ames, IA 18th 1967 Lafayette, IN
19th 1968 Morgantown, WV 20th 1969 Urbana, IL
21st 1970 Lawrence, KS 22nd 1971 Norman, OK
23rd 1972 Old Point Comfort, VA 24th 1973 Sheridan, WY
25th 1974 Raleigh, NC 26th 1975 Coeur d’Alene, ID
27th 1976 Orlando, FL 28th 1977 Rapid City, SD
29th 1978 Annapolis, MD 30th 1979 Portland, OR
31st 1980 Austin, TX 32nd 1981 Gatlinburg, TN
33rd 1982 Vail, CO 34th 1983 Stone Mountain, GA
35th 1984 San Jose, CA 36th 1985 Clarksville, TN
37th 1986 Helena, MT 38th 1987 Pittsburgh, PA
39th 1988 Park City, UT 40th 1989 Birmingham, AL
41st 1990 Albuquerque, NM 41st 1991 Albany, NY
43rd 1992 Fayetteville, AR 44rd 1993 Tampa, FL
45th 1994 Portland, OR 46th 1995 Charleston, WV
47th 1996 Cody, WY 48th 1997 Knoxville, TN
49th 1998 Prescott, AZ 50th 1999 Roanoke, VA
51st 2000 Seattle, WA 52nd 2001 Cumberland, MD
53rd 2002 San Luis Obispo, CA 54th 2003 Burlington, VT
55th 2004 Kansas City, MO 56th 2005 Wilmington, NC
57th 2006 Breckinridge, CO 58th 2007 Pocono Manor, PA
59th 2008 Santa Fe, NM 60th 2009 Buffalo, NY
61st 2010 Oklahoma City, OK 62nd 2011 Lexington, KY
63rd 2012 Redding, CA 64th 2013 North Conway, NH
65th 2014 Laramie, WY 66th 2015 Sturbridge, MA
67th 2016 Colorado Springs, CO 68th 2017 Marietta, GA
69th 2018 Portland, ME 70th 2019 Portland, OR
71st 2022 Asheville, NC 72nd 2023 Proposed Tacoma, WA
73rd 2024 Proposed Kansas 74th 2025 Proposed West Virginia
75th 2026 Proposed Nevada 76th 2027 Proposed Pennsylvania


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

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.

2014 presented a breathtaking tour of the geology and history of southeast Wyoming, ascending from the high plains surrounding Laramie at 7,000 feet to the Medicine Bow Mountains along the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. Visible along the way were a Precambrian shear zone, and glacial deposits and features. From the glacially carved Mirror Lake and the Snowy Range Ski Area, the path wound east to the Laramie Mountains and the Vedauwoo Recreational Area, a popular rock climbing and hiking area, before returning to Laramie. In Sturbridge, MA, the 2015 field trip focused on the Connecticut Valley, a Mesozoic rift basin that signaled the breakup of Pangea, and the Berkshires, which represents the collision and amalgamation of an island arc system with the North American Laurentian margin. The field trip in 2016 was an urban setting along the western edge of Colorado Springs and around Manitou Springs. Stops included the Pikeview Quarry, Garden of Gods Visitor Center, and several other locations where rockfall and debris flow mitigation, post-flooding highway embankment repair, and a nonconformity in the rock records that spans 1.3 billion years were observed.

In Sturbridge, MA, the 2015 field trip focused on the Connecticut Valley, a Mesozoic rift basin that signaled the breakup of Pangea, and the Berkshires, which represents the collision and amalgamation of an island arc system with the North American Laurentian margin.

The field trip in 2016 was an urban setting along the western edge of Colorado Springs and around Manitou Springs. Stops included the Pikeview Quarry, Garden of the Gods Visitor Center, and several other locations where rockfall and debris flow mitigation, post-flooding highway embankment repair, and a nonconformity in the rock records that spans 1.3 billion years were observed.

The 2017 field trip provided an opportunity to view the geology of northern Georgia. Stops included the Bellwood Quarry, which, at one time was run by the City of Atlanta and also served as a prison labor camp. It will eventually serve as a 2.4 billion-gallon water storage facility for the City of Atlanta upon completion of a tunnel to connect the quarry to two water treatment plans and three pump stations. Additional stops included the Buzzi Unicem Cement Plant to get a close upview of the Clairmont Melange, The Cooper Furnace near the Allatoona Dam, and the New Riverside Ochre-Emerson Barite mine.

The 2018 field trip in Portland Maine provided a good overview of the geology of coastal Maine. Field trip stops included a stop at the Sherman Salt Marsh near Newcastle which was recently restored to its natural state after the dam that carried US Highway 1 washed out during a 2005 storm. Additional stops included the site of the 1996 landslide near Rockland Harbor that consumed several homes and the rock slope remediation project at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge near Prospect Maine. A lobster lunch along the shore of Penobscot Bay was one of several highlights of the field trip.

The 2019 field trip in Portland Oregon travelled the Columbia River Gorge west. Starting at the Crown Point Vista House and Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint above the gorge to learn about the river highway. Descending into the gorge, we stopped at scenic Multnomah Falls and Benson Bridge, and saw flexible rockfall fence installed to protect the lodge and historic Columbia River Highway. Other stops included lunch at Cascade Locks, Bonneville Landslide and rockfall areas along the highway.


Technical Sessions and Speakers

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.

Member Recognition

Medallion Award. 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.

Emeritus Members. 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.

Dedications. Several Proceedings volumes have been dedicated to past HGS Steering Committee members or others who have made outstanding contributions to HGS. The 36th HGS Proceedings were dedicated to David L. Royster (1931 – 1985, Tennessee) at the Clarksville, Indiana meeting in 1985. In 1991, the Proceedings of the 42nd HGS held in Albany, New York were 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. The 2015 Proceedings of the 66th HGS were dedicated to Michael Hager, and the 67th HGS 2016 Proceedings were dedicated to Vern McGuffey. The 68th Proceedings are dedicated to Richard (Dick) Cross. The proceedings for the 69th HGS are dedicated to Dave Bingham (1932-2018) and Joe Gutierrez (1926-2018). The Proceedings of the 71st HGS are dedicated to Vernon (Vern) Bump.

Young Author Award

The Highway Geology Symposium has a large participation of young (under 35) professionals and the Symposium encourages and is committed to participation of Young Authors. At the 2014 Symposium, a formal Young Author competition was initiated and Young Author Awards were given for the first time to encourage these professionals to present their projects and lessons learned. Their contributions have been invaluable to the technical and networking value of the Symposium. Up to three awards are given each year after presentations. Monetary and future Symposium Registration awards may be presented in addition to a Young Author trophy to the top Young Author each year.

The top ranked authors that have won the award are:

2014  Simon Boone, “Performance of Flexible Debris Flow Barriers in a Narrow Canyon”

2015  Cory Rinehart, “High Quality H20: Utilizing Horizontal Drains for Landslide Stabilization”

2016  Todd Hansen, “Geologic Exploration for Ground Classification: Widening of the I-70 Veterans Memorial Tunnels”

2017  James Arthurs, “Construction of Transportation Infrastructure in Weathered Volcanic Ash Soils”

2018  Brian Felber, “Geotechnical Challenges for Bridge Foundations & Roadway Embankment Design in Peats and Deep Glacial Lake Deposits”

2019  Anya Brose, “The Assessment and Remediation of the Wabasha Street Rock Fall”

2022 Christopher Mayer, “Using Geophysics to Evaluate the Results of a Grouting Program in Karstic Geology”