Over a period of several days, News 2 cameras caught people taking rock from rock walls near the side of Highway 41, north of Nashville.
The people were shoveling the rock into buckets without permission from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
A News 2 viewer said he has witnessed people using pitch forks to knock rocks off the wall.
TDOT said taking the rock does create substantial danger to people who are on the side of the road because they are at risk of being struck by a vehicle. Also the rock wall itself can become unstable when someone is hitting it with tools or shoveling away rock at the wall’s base.
“There is a possibility that vibrations [however minor] could cause rock to fall,” TDOT spokeswoman Heather Jensen told News 2. “When TDOT crews work on or near rock walls, great care is taken to insure the safety of those workers.”
According to Tennessee law, taking rock from the public right away “constitutes the crime of theft to knowingly remove, without owner consent, any portion of a stone or rock wall located on the public right-of-way or on private property. Sanctions are substantial.”
TDOT said catching people stealing the rock is tough and they have so many other priorities they do not actively patrol for people taking rocks.
But, the department said it would prosecute people to the fullest extent of the law if they are caught stealing rock from the walls.
“It is illegal to take that rock,” Jensen said. “You are on state property you are trespassing and taking that rock is a form of theft.”
Even as News 2 cameras rolled in plain sight someone arrived on the side of the Highway 41 and began filling several buckets with rock from the ground below the rock wall.
When asked, the man, who asked not to be identified, said he knew that taking the rock was probably illegal.
“I know it and now you got me on camera here,” he said. “This is the first time.”
The man said he needed the rock to level out some land near a barn. He said he got the idea to get rock from the road from others he saw doing the same thing.
In addition to the danger and possible criminal issues, TDOT told News 2 the rock is not of a high quality.
“On the other hand, those taking the rocks should be advised they are not getting a quality product,” Jensen said. “The rocks are not good limestone that would make for a good rock garden or stepping stone. It's a lower quality rock that works primarily for the purpose that TDOT uses it.”