ASHEVILLE – Work to complete a safety project in an area of I-40 near the North Carolina-Tennessee border that in the past has been prone to rockslides will require a lane reduction in each direction for about three weeks.
Traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction for a one-mile stretch near exit seven (Cold Springs Creek Road) so crews can safely mill, pave and stripe the highway, as well as install new drainage and construct a new median barrier wall. Once all the work is wrapped up, traffic can be shifted back into its final pattern across all four lanes.
“This is a major safety improvement on an important interstate,” Division 14 Resident Engineer Aaron Powell said. “We wanted to put the rock-slope back to a point where we believe there will not have a major rockslide that would close the highway for months.”
Motorists should expect significant delays in the area, especially during times of heavy traffic, and plan accordingly. The prime hours to travel will be in the early morning.
Because of the lane reductions, tractor trailers and other vehicles with a width greater than 14 feet will be required to take an alternate route for safety of all motorists passing through the area. Some permits for wider loads have been granted, allowing those vehicles to pass.
That alternate route for wider vehicles and motorists who want to avoid the expected backups is taking I-26 West to Johnson City, Tenn., then following I-81 South until it re-connects with I-40 outside of Dandridge, Tenn. It is a 55-mile route, but at interstate speed will take less than an hour, and would save time when there are significant backups at the construction site.
To deal with the potential of rockslides, crews have blasted more than 110,000 tons of dirt and rock off the mountainside since May 2015. In some places, 15-to-20-foot steel rods have been drilled and bolted into the rock to secure it from falling.
Following the demolition period, workers installed a high-tension restraining fence and a series of thick-gauge netting, and a barrier wall on the shoulder in several areas to prevent loose rocks and boulders from rolling into the highway.
The upcoming project work is intended to re-establish the regular traffic pattern before Labor Day weekend.