What’s going on with the Blue Ridge Parkway?

A 6-mile stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville has been closed due to the threat of an imminent landslide, according to Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis. “Engineers evaluated the situation and felt that it was very dangerous and that it would put people’s lives at risk to keep the parkway open,” Francis said in an interview with Xpress on Friday. “They strongly urged that we close the parkway, and we followed their recommendation.”

While there was no rock fall onto the roadway, heavy rains in recent weeks have led to significant movement in the soil in this particular area, raising considerable concern among parkway engineers. “There have been continuing occasions where the road surface was rising,” Francis said. “Deep crevices were expanding, and with all the fill material above the parkway, the engineers felt that [it] could slide at any time.”

“It is presently a threat from above,” Francis said. “The [geological] bench that the parkway rests upon is of sufficient mass so that the entire roadway would probably not slide down the mountainside. However, the amount of material above the parkway was moving and was being monitored and continued to move. … It was just too risky.”

Currently, the Parkway stretch is closed to all traffic, including bicycles and pedestrians. “The contractor is up there working now, and it is still extremely hazardous,” Francis said. “I’m very concerned about the well-being of the contractors and hope that they are able to resolve this safely. It is a very dangerous situation.”

The contractors will be working from the top down to remove the loose material from the mountainside — a process that is expected to take several months. “Eventually, after they have successfully removed the material that might fall, they will be installing cores and caps that will keep the mountainside in place.”

Although it is expected to be a significant earth-moving process, Francis believes the parkway can be reopened fairly soon. “We are hoping to have the first lane open by July 2, with both lanes open by August,” the superintendent said.

“We’re celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway this year, so we hate to close any portion of the parkway, but when it comes to safety and putting people’s lives at risk, that always comes first.”

The closure affects the Blue Ridge Parkway between Milepost 399.7 (Bad Fork Valley Overlook) to Milepost 405 (N.C. 151). From the Asheville area, southbound travelers are recommended to detour on N.C. Route 191, N.C. Route 280 and U.S. Route 276 to the parkway. For northbound traffic near the Mount Pisgah area, take U.S. Route 276, N.C. Route 280, and N.C. Route 191.

The closure means traveling on the parkway to the popular Black Balsam and Sam’s Knob isn’t possible. Take the above detour instead.

For more information about this and other closures on the Blue Ridge Parkway, visit: http://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm.

photo by Danny Bernstein.
— by Eric Crews


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