North Carolina

I-40 reopens Thursday afternoon after rock slide. Expect long delays, NCDOT warns

Interstate 40 reopened to traffic Thursday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m., two days earlier than expected, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

However, the well-traveled interstate is down to one lane for 400 feet in both directions through the mountains, promising backups for miles at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.

The speed limit has also been lowered to 45 mph in the area.

Traffic was being rerouted 50 miles around the spot where a rock slide brought tons of rock, trees and dirt onto the pavement.

NCDOT officials said in a news release that it could take another six to eight weeks to reopen all the lanes. “Expect delays for the next six weeks while repairs are completed,” NCDOT said in a tweet.

The interstate was closed since Friday, Feb. 22, after a late-night rock slide occurred in westbound lanes at mile marker 7.5, near exit 20, reported NCDOT. Rock and other debris was still falling the next day, officials said in a press release.

Engineers determined a 500-foot wide area alongside the interstate needed to be stabilized before the road could be reopened. An estimated 27,000 cubic yards of debris fell in the westbound lanes, then bounced into eastbound lanes, officials said.

The slide was blamed on a heavy rain in the western part of the state.

Harrison Construction received a $2.1 million emergency contract to stabilize the slide area, according to a DOT news release on Thursday afternoon.

Crews removed unstable rocks, mud and trees “from atop the slide area and pushed it to the road,” according to the release. “Other crews have hauled that material to a debris site. Work already completed since sunrise on Saturday includes removing the concrete median, paving the depression and rumble strips on the eastbound side, painting lines and installing reflectors.

“The next phase of repairs has already started,” according to the DOT release. “Crews from Harrison and a sub-contractor will continue removing material and installing rock anchors and wire mesh at the top of the slope to slow the momentum of any small debris that should break loose in the future. In addition, new horizontal drains will direct water inside the slope.”

Four different rock or mud slides have been reported in North Carolina in the past week, including one that closed lanes of U.S. 74 near Sylva in Jackson County.

The highway has since reopened, state officials told the Charlotte Observer.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.