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

Posted October 25, 2009 1:13 p.m. EDT
Updated October 28, 2009 12:20 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.