DOT: Up to three months needed to clear rock slide

Posted October 26, 2009 8:35 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2009 9:29 p.m. EDT

— 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.