I-40 rock slide could be cleared by late April

Posted February 23, 2010 4:07 p.m. EST
Updated February 23, 2010 5:54 p.m. EST

— The state Department of Transportation said Tuesday that a stretch of Interstate 40 in western North Carolina could reopen by late April – six months after it was buried in a rock slide.

The original contract called for the work to be completed in March, but winter weather has delayed the work, which included stabilizing a Haywood County mountainside, DOT Chief Engineer of Operations Jon Nance said.

“This has been an incredibly harsh winter, and because of that, the specialty contractors have not been able to do as much work as planned,” Nance in a statement.

Twenty-five inches of snow fell in the area since December – a 250 percent increase over the historic average – and 17 inches inches of rain fell on the area during the period – about a 30 percent increase over the historic average.

While the highway has been closed, the DOT looked at the corridor and determined five other sites also need to be stabilized. The additional work shouldn't affect the reopening of I-40, Nance said.

Four of the sites to be stabilized are just west of the area where the Oct. 25 rock slide occurred, near the Tennessee border. The fifth is 1.5 miles east of the rock slide site.

The first phase of the work at these sites involves removing unstable rock. The work, which must be performed while the road is closed, should be completed before crews have finished shoring up the mountainside where the rock slide occurred, officials said.

The rock slide has forced travelers to use a 53-mile detour to and from Tennessee on Interstates 26 and 81.

State and contract workers have removed thousands of tons of boulders and unstable rock from the site of the rock slide. Crews are still installing 590 rock bolts to stabilize the mountainside. About half of the holes have been drilled, and 20 percent of the holes have been grouted, officials said.

Even after I-40 reopens, about one mile of the westbound lane closest to the mountain will remain closed until the summer so crews can finish installing rock bolts and anchor mesh at the five additional sites.