UPDATE: NC DOT opens I-40 west in North Carolina

Update Saturday night, Feb. 4, from N.C. DOT:

The N.C. Department of Transportation will reopen I-40 West from Exit 20 to the Tennessee state line to traffic on Sunday, Feb. 5, between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. The road has been closed since Jan. 31 when a rockslide occurred at mile marker 451 in Cocke County, Tenn.

Traffic should flow normally on I-40 West through North Carolina. However, motorists crossing into Tennessee will see the road narrow down to one lane at the site of the rockslide. They are urged to drive slowly and use caution while traveling through the area.

NCDOT worked closely with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to coordinate reopening the road. This team approach was especially important after a second rockslide occurred on Friday, Feb. 3, at noon on I-40 West near mile marker 7 in North Carolina. The slide left 600 tons of rock in the roadway, with some boulders the size of small cars.

NCDOT crews, with help from Ameritech Slope Constructors Inc. of Asheville, removed an additional 150 tons of loose rock from the mountainside and hauled off the debris from the road by 3 p.m. today. The site is now clear and safe for travel.

Update Saturday afternoon from N.C. DOT:

Interstate 40 West at mile marker 7 in North Carolina is now clear of all debris that fell onto the road after a rockslide occurred at noon on Friday, Feb. 3. Within 24 hours of starting clean-up efforts, crews had secured all loose rock on the mountainside and removed all rock from the roadway.

“Dedicated crews worked long hours in cold, wet weather to clear this critical interstate,” said N.C. Department of Transportation Division 14 Engineer Joel Setzer. “Our successful partnership with the contractor enabled us to get the job done quickly and safely.”

NCDOT crews started at 3 p.m. Friday removing the 600 tons of rock that fell onto I-40 West. Some of the boulders were the size of small cars. By 11 p.m. that night, they had loaded all the rock onto dump trucks and hauled it away, with the exception of a few loads that were unsafe to reach due to overhanging rock.

This morning, a crew of certified professional climbers from Ameritech Slope Constructors Inc. of Asheville scaled the mountain and began removing loose pieces of rock from the area where the rockslide occurred. In all, they removed 150 tons of rock to ensure the stability of the mountain.

Once the scalers transferred that additional rock to the ground, NCDOT crews loaded it into dump trucks and hauled it away. They completed the hauling work at 3 p.m. today.

Although the road is now clear, NCDOT will not open it to traffic until debris removal efforts are complete on the rockslide on I-40 West in Cocke County, Tenn. At this time, the Tennessee Department of Transportation reports that crews there have removed about 70 percent of the rock from the site and are on track to reopen I-40 West to traffic by Monday.

FROM THE N.C. Department of Transportation (Saturday morning report)

Crews from the N.C. Department of Transportation have made strong progress clearing debris from the rockslide that occurred around noon on Friday, Feb. 3, on Interstate 40 West at mile marker 7 in North Carolina.

At this time, they have removed all of the 600 tons of rock that fell onto the roadway, with the exception of a few dump truck loads that were unsafe to reach due to overhanging rock. They started clearing the debris just three hours after the rockslide occurred and finished hauling it away at 11 p.m. Friday.

The area where the rockslide occurred was already closed to traffic following a rockslide on I-40 West in Cocke County, Tenn. earlier this week. The eastbound lanes of I-40 remain open.

In addition to removal efforts, a rock scaling crew from Ameritech Slope Constructors Inc. of Asheville began work this morning to help with the rockslide clean up. The crew has also been assisting with the Tennessee rockslide. Rock scalers are certified professional climbers who scale the mountainside to remove loose pieces of rock.

The department estimates that the scalers will need to remove about 250 tons of unstable rock from the mountainside. After they transfer all the loose rock to the ground below, NCDOT crews will load it up and haul it off as quickly as possible.

At this point, NCDOT plans to complete the rockslide clean up by Sunday evening. This will coordinate well with the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s plan to finish clearing its rockslide and reopen I-40 West to traffic by Monday. However, weather conditions will play a significant role in how closely both DOTs can follow that timeframe. Scalers cannot work in heavy rain or lightning, and with a high percentage of wet weather in the forecast, there is a possibility that it could impact the pace of work.

The North Carolina rockslide took place close to the site of a rockslide that occurred in January 2010. A “drape” – a steel net that catches rocks – was installed on the mountainside after the January 2010 slide. The drape is intended to minimize how far rock falls from the mountain. The drape functioned as it was intended during Friday’s rockslide, helping to contain the fallen rock and limit its distance of travel.

The initial debris field measured about 40 feet wide and 12 feet high. The largest boulders are similar in size to a small car. Pictures of the rockslide and clean-up efforts are available on NCDOT’s Flickr page.

The department will continue to provide updates as work progresses on the rockslide. For real-time travel information at any time, call 511, visit www.ncdot.gov/travel , access NCDOT’s mobile website by typing “m.ncdot.gov” into the browser of your smartphone or follow NCDOT on Twitter at www.ncdot.gov/travel/twitter.

Western North Carolina destinations such as Asheville, Cherokee, Waynesville, Maggie Valley and North Carolina sections of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are still accessible via I-40 West without taking a detour. Only interstate travel into Tennessee is affected by the closure of I-40 West near the state line. Westbound traffic traveling from North Carolina to Tennessee may continue to use the signed detour routes currently in place for the I-40 West closure.

The primary detour route for all vehicles is I-240 West in Asheville to I-26 West to I-81 South in Tennessee back to I-40. In addition to the primary signed detour route for all vehicles, non-commercial vehicles can also bypass the I-40 West closure by following U.S. 74 West (via Exit 27) or U.S. 19 South (via Exit 20/U.S. 276 South) to U.S. 441 North, which travels through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into Tennessee and connects back with I-40.

NCDOT reminds motorists to watch signs for travel information, stay alert and obey the posted speed limit.


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