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Rockslide shuts down highway near NC-Tennessee line

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Debris was still sliding onto I-40 on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 23, 2019 after a Friday night rockslide closed the interstate.
Angeli Wright, awright@citizen-times.com

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – A slide of rocks, dirt and trees will keep a 20-mile section of Interstate 40 in Western North Carolina closed for up to a week as crews remove debris and set up an alternate route.

The slide of about 20,000 cubic yards of material occurred around 7:30 p.m. Friday at mile marker 7.5, near the Harmon Den exit.

“We had a small slide with rocks falling from a pretty high elevation, and when they were hitting the road, they were bouncing into the eastbound lanes,” Ted Adams, a construction engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said Saturday afternoon. 

NCDOT closed I-40 westbound at exit 20 (U.S. 276) and eastbound lanes at the Tennessee state line. Both lanes were closed for the safety of both drivers and cleanup teams.

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As crews on Saturday cut down trees on the slope, which sits right at the edge of the roadway on a curve, dirt, rocks and more would periodically slide down into the westbound lanes.

NCDOT crews will set up the eastbound lanes to allow for one lane in each direction for about 1,500-2,000 feet around the slide site. 

“Our goal is to get this cleaned up as soon as possible,” Adams said. Crews will work 24 hours a day to get traffic flowing again.

But moving all the dirt, rocks and debris from the slope will take longer – about four to six weeks.

“We hope we can do it quicker, but that’s our preliminary estimate,” he said.

Car damage and backed up traffic

When the slide started on Friday, nine cars were damaged, many getting flat tires from running over rocks in the road, Adams said. One car was hit on the side by a falling rock after the vehicle stopped so it wouldn’t hit debris in the road. No people were injured.

The slide generated miles of backup on Interstate 40. The North Carolina State Highway Patrol helped clear the backup by turning cars around. This stretch of road carries an average of 26,000 cars daily.

A small slide, by comparison

The last major slide in the area was in 2009.

“Most of our slides have been over 100,000 cubic yards, which is about a thousand dump truck loads of material. This one’s closer to 20,000 cubic yards,” Adams said.

Engineers have “scoured this entire gorge” looking for other potential trouble areas. “We know where all the hot spots are. The problem is we just don’t know when and where.”

A rock excavation was done about three years just west of the site of the current to prevent a major slide from occurring, he said. 

Harrison Construction has received an emergency contract to perform the work. Its crews were expected on site Saturday afternoon to begin work on the project.

Adams estimated the cost of the project to be around $750,000, which will be paid out of federal funds.

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For updated traffic information, check NC DOT’s traffic information site.

 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/02/23/rockslide-closes-40-both-directions-near-nc-tennessee-line/2964806002/


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