DOT: Up to three months needed to clear rock slide

Posted October 26, 2009

— Authorities estimate they will need up to three months to clear debris from a rock slide that has closed Interstate 40 in both directions at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.

Detour map from DOT

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that three vehicles ran into the rocks within minutes of the slide, which occurred about 2 a.m. Sunday near mile marker three in Haywood County, west of Asheville. Highway Patrol troopers say one woman suffered injuries that weren’t life-threatening.

A DOT spokeswoman said Monday the rock slide has created a 53-mile detour. Motorists traveling west to Tennessee should take I-40 West to I-240 West in Asheville to I-26 West. Follow I-26 West from Asheville to I-81 South in Tennessee, back to I-40. Eastbound motorists will follow the reverse directions.

Joel Setzer, a division engineer with the state Transportation Department, said the freeze and thaw of recent rains could have contributed to the slide.

Setzer says geologists and geo-technical experts with the Transportation Department did a preliminary assessment and agreed with the engineers’ estimate of up to three months to clear the area.

“An estimated 22,000 to 25,000 vehicles pass through this section of Interstate 40 daily, about half of which are commercial trucks,” Setzer said.

The highway closure could hurt the area’s already struggling tourism industry, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, said Marla Tambellini, vice president of marketing for the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It certainly couldn’t come at a worse time, not only because we’re still at the end of leaf season but also because the tourism industry has been hit (during the recession),” said Tambellini, who recalled the impact of a 1997 rock slide. “We’ve gone through it before and we made it out.”

The 1997 slide closed I-40 from July 1 until two lanes reopened Sept. 10. Derrick Cole and his wife, Amy, opened Applecover Inn Motel in Maggie Valley just days before that slide.

During that closure, the motel would go three to four days without any visitors during what has since been one of the busiest times of the year.

“That hurt us a lot,” he said. “I think the benefit that we are going to have here (with today’s landslide), is that it happened at the end of our season.”

Tourists normally stop coming into the Maggie Valley area to view the fall foliage around next weekend, he said.


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  • time4real Oct 27, 2009

    up to 30 months in reality!

  • kevboom Oct 27, 2009

    Yes, anyone driving from the Triangle or Triad to Knoxville should take the Winston-Salem route through Mount Airy to Wytheville, Virginia, and back down I-81. My family has been taking this route for years to avoid 40 through the mountains. It really doesn't take much longer at all--10 or 15 minutes tops. Much easier drive than all those curves on 40, and certainly much quicker than the "detour" the NC DOT is posting through Asheville to Johnson City, TN.

  • TomLynda Oct 27, 2009


    Thanks for posting those detours information. Have some friends that are heading that way. Will pass that information on to them. Have a great week.

  • TomLynda Oct 27, 2009


    You are right on the money. I have live out West in the Rocky Mountains, and rock slides are not that uncommon. Once it happens it is as you said. A lot of work had to be done to remove rock that in all probablility will give way later. There will be blasting involved, and yes, as a result the road will be and has been damaged, thus will need repairing.

    As long as man builds roads in mountains, there will be slides. No real way to absolutely stop it in advance. You have the change in the seasons, freezing, thawing, the water that gets inside expands and contacts, the rocks start to break. It's normal. Barriers do some help, but the forces of nature are so great, nothing man can do is going to stop it.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Oct 27, 2009

    Seeing that there are two good alternate routes, they should close I-40 from Waynesville, NC to Newport, TN and rebuild the last 20 miles to the Tennessee border at current interstate highway standards.

    The current I-40 through the mountains doesn't meet interstate highway standards and only supports speeds of 50 mph. This route is dangerous especially with trucks on the highway. The left lane is up against the cement barrier and the right lane is up against the river. There is no room for mistakes on this stretch of highway.

    The detour from I-40 in Winston-Salem to US-52 to I-74 to I-77 to I-81 to I-40 is 15 minutes longer than following I-40 through mountains according to Google. This route is safer and faster with speed limits of 65 MPH and 70 MPH.

    The detour from I-40 in Asheville to I-240 to I-26 to I-81 to I-40 is about an hour longer than I-40 through the mountains to Tennessee. This road is also faster and safer with speed limits of 65 MPH and 70 MPH.

  • kcfoxie Oct 27, 2009

    This is why I take 85 into Atlanta, Cut over to 20, and take 78 up thru Mississippi to get to Memphis.

    After I saw a gas tanker that had flipped on 40 in Asheville, I said no more I-40/mountains for me.

    2AM.. a time I'd have been driving thru. Scary.

    Glad no one was hurt.

  • baracus Oct 27, 2009

    Only the folks here could turn a rockslide into a political issue.

    Anway, I imagine in addition to removing the rocks and fixing the road, they will also need to either shore up or pre-emptively remove any rocks that look like they are ready to let go.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Oct 27, 2009

    "If it isn't about their beloved governor wral won't print much about it. One thing about wral news, they are very political correct."

    The owner of WRAL is a big Democrat support. He was openly defending John Edwards concerning his affair with his mistress until the National Enquirer broke the story with pictures. At that point WRAL had no choice but to jump on the pile and start showing what a sleaze that John Edwards really was.

    We must remember that all media sources have an agenda. WRAL's agenda is very liberal and pro-Democrat.

  • Iwasasoldier4u Oct 27, 2009

    If it isn't about their beloved governor wral won't print much about it. One thing about wral news, they are very political correct.

  • lkanzig Oct 27, 2009

    3 months?!? did it damage road? are they putting up barriers like they should have done back in 97? its pretty bad that wral is in the news biz and get hardly any info!