DOT: Clearing rock slide from I-40 could take months

Posted October 25, 2009
Updated October 28, 2009

— A rock slide in the mountains outside Asheville could disrupt traffic on Interstate 40 for months, the state Department of Transportation said Sunday.

The rock slide occurred at mile marker 2.6 in Haywood County, near the Tennessee state line, shortly after 2 a.m.

Rock slide closes I-40 in Haywood Rock slide closes I-40 in western N.C.

No one witnessed the slide, but several vehicles, including a tractor-trailer, ran into debris just minutes later. Some minor injuries were reported.

“They drove up on this without seeing that the rocks had fallen off into the road,” Lt. Greg Christopher with the North Carolina Highway Patrol said.

Drivers said that some of the rocks were the size of a large garage.

Both sides of I-40 have been closed, and DOT has recommended a nearly 140 mile detour.

  • Westbound travelers should get off I-40 at exit 53B onto Interstate 240 West in Asheville. From I-240 West, take exit 4 A onto Interstate 26 West. Follow I-26 West towards Virginia. Then, get onto Interstate 81 South, which connects to I-40 West at mile marker 421.
  • Eastbound travelers should exit from I-40 onto I-81 North. Take I-81 North, to I-26 East into Asheville. Then, transfer onto I-240 East, which connects to I-40 East.

View Interstate 40 rockslide detour in a larger map

Engineers' initial estimates are that the size of the rocks and the impending winter weather could extend the clean-up from a couple of weeks to a couple months, DOT officials said.

Clean-up will be handled by Phillips and Jordan Inc. The efforts are being coordinated with the U.S. Forestry Service, which owns the land.

Engineers said the freeze and thaw of recent rains could have contributed to the slide.

DOT officials said a lot of work has gone into pinning rocks in the slide-prone area. Without those precautions, Sunday's rock slide could have been worse, they said.

In July 1997, two slides shut down the same stretch of I-40. Two people were injured when their vehicle ran into a boulder in the westbound lanes of the highway. Three others sustained injuries when a huge rock hit the top of their van on I-40 East.

A major slide in the mid-1980s closed two tunnels on I-40 near the Tennessee border for several weeks.


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  • pbjbeach Oct 29, 2009

    With regards to the projected time frame to clean up this rock slide mess you can blame it all on the ncdot exective mangament as that in most case they know not of what they speak. an if they weren't so intent on forcing in to retirement the older an more experience technicians that have work in the field for years an not behind some desk mimicing what they have heared in some school atmosphere an had actualy had been in the field an had the experience an knowledge to handle issues of this nature then an only then should they be allowed to put out press releases of what needs to happen to correct a situation of this nature. it is perty apparent to me that the rock face would first need to be stablized then blast the remaing rock into smaller pieces an load it up an haul it away or if possbly shove it over the side of the montain after it has been blasted in to smaller pieces clean up the remaing highway debri an reopen the highway

  • SEOpro Oct 26, 2009

    I wonder if anybody has told DOT about bulldozers and cranes yet...

  • OLD PIRATE 2 Oct 26, 2009

    SEVERAL WEEKS TO SEVERAL MONTHS: this from an engineer!!! We need FEMA in there now....

  • time4real Oct 26, 2009

    DOT says it will take 4 years to remove the rocks and fix the problem!

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Oct 26, 2009

    I-40 is an interstate in name only. It's not even limited access. A couple of roads in the mountains intersect it with a stop sign near the Tennessee border. The speed limit is 50 MPH for the last 20 miles going into Tennessee. The road is curvy and dangerous with the yellow line on the inside lane almost next to the cement barrier. If you make a mistake on this section of highway, you're either into the cement wall or the river on the right.

    This road can't even be replaced where it's at. This highway doesn't meet current interstate highway standards.

    Personally I like to take I-40 to Winston-Salem, US-52 to Pilot Mountain / Mount Airy, I-74 to I-77, I-77 to Wytheville, VA, and then I-81 back to where it joins I-40 in Tennessee.

    Google map says it's 15 minutes further than taking I-40 directly into Tennessee.

    Plus this alternate route is 65 MPH in North Carolina and Virgina. I-77 is 70 MPH in North Carolina, and I-81 is 65 MPH and 70 MPH. It's a safer route.

  • happy Oct 26, 2009

    and my GPS didn't offer much help rerouting me. It just kept trying to put me on the next exit so I could turn around and start back in the direction I was coming from, so I took the advise of the Hwy 81 to I-26. It had been so many years, I wasn't sure about the other routes.

  • happy Oct 26, 2009

    I was in this mess yesterday. Spent Sat night with my daughter near Morristown. Was taking my son back to WCU and ran into the road block. Long story short, it took 5 hours to take a 1 1/2 hour trip. All the rerouted traffic gets backed up in Asheville just for a little extra special kick in the rear at the end of the reroute.

    Just happy that the slide happened after we came thru on Sat night and that we weren't caught in it. I can gripe about a long drive and be ok. If my kids were hurt, I'd be devastated.

    Funny though. Hadn't been on that section of I-40 since 1992. I think it was God's way of saying "don't go back there!"

  • norskagent Oct 26, 2009

    The recommended detour length is ~140 miles, but that is not all "extra" miles. The normal I-40 route from asheville to where the detour would rejoin it is about ~85 miles, so the extra milage via the detour is about 55-60.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Oct 26, 2009

    From areas in Winston Salem and east, there is a better/faster way. Take I-40 West to Highway 52 North in Winston. Then hit I-74 East just north of Pilot Mountain. In 15 miles or so, you hit I-77 North to Wytheville, VA. Then hit I-81 South. This will end as it merges into I-40 West. Its 4-lane the entire trip and 65MPH most of the way. Great view looking to your right as you go up I-77 North into Virginia.

  • lkanzig Oct 26, 2009

    if they had this problem before, why didnt they take measures to keep it from happening again? i have been through there just last year and there is little if any anti rock slide barriers there.