Rock slide closes I-40 for likely a week with long cleanup

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY JOE MARUSAK [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

A rock slide closed In­ter­state 40 in the North Carolina moun­tains on Fri­day night, and the high­way will stay shut for a week as crews sta­bi­lize the moun­tain­side, N.C. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials said.

De­bris con­tin­ued to fall Satur­day morn­ing as en­gi­neers sur­veyed the slide near Ten­nessee, ac­cord­ing to NCDOT.

The slide at mile marker 7.5 closed west­bound I-40 at the state line Fri­day night and exit 20 east­bound, of­fi­cials said.

Geotech­ni­cal ex­perts found a 500-foot wide area near Hur­ri­cane Creek must be sta­bi­lized, ac­cord­ing to the DOT re­lease.

Cleanup will re­quire lane clo­sures for up to two months after the week­long clo­sure of the high­way, high­way of­fi­cials said.

“For ev­ery­body’s safety — driv­ers, work­ers, con­trac­tors — we need to keep the road closed for about a week,” NCDOT Divi­sion 14 En­gi­neer Brian Burch said in Satur­day’s re­lease. “At that point, we an­tic­i­pate hav­ing enough ma­te­rial down the moun­tain that we can re­store one lane of traf­fic in each di­rec­tion.”

NCDOT awarded an emer­gency con­tract to Har­ri­son Con­struc­tion as part of an­other con­tract to im­prove I-40 later this spring, ac­cord­ing to the state news re­lease.

“Pre­lim­i­nary plans in­clude re­mov­ing ap­prox­i­mately 27,000 cu­bic yards of dirt, rock and other de­bris, fol­lowed by the in­stal­la­tion of pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures such as a net­ting or catch­ment fence,” ac­cord­ing to NCDOT. “GeoTech­ni­cal ex­perts will help de­velop the de­tailed plans.”

Driv­ers will be de­toured on a route in­clud­ing I-40, I-240, I-26 and I-81 through Asheville and John­son City, ac­cord­ing to NCDOT.

Ten­nessee DOT of­fi­cials said they will as­sist de­tour­ing traf­fic in the John­son City area.

“The dis­tance from Asheville to the I-40/I-81 junc­tion in Ten­nessee is about 50 miles longer than driv­ing through the Pi­geon River Gorge,” DOT of­fi­cials said in the re­lease.

At 1:30 p.m. Satur­day, NCDOT posted with pho­tos on Face­book that the con­trac­tor had be­gun re­mov­ing de­bris.

Of­fi­cials have not said what they think caused the mas­sive slide, but per­sis­tent rain in the state has caused other slides over at least a year. In the past four days, 3 to 4 inches of rain fell in ar­eas of Hay­wood County near the slide, meteorologist Doug Out­law of the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice in Greer, S.C., told The Char­lotte Observer at 12:30 p.m. Satur­day.

”It’s still rain­ing up there, and more rain is on the way from Ten­nessee to­day and tonight,” Out­law said. He added that he’d just seen footage of flood­ing in nearby Knoxville, Tenn.

“They’ll start dry­ing out late Sun­day morn­ing,” Out­law said.

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