US Route 441 is a main artery in Western North Carolina. However, a crack in the road on Cowee Mountain in Jackson County has slowed traffic since late February.
Nathan Tanner is the Department of Transportation resident engineer for three counties of Western North Carolina - thats district 2 of division 14. He explains why they decided to redirect traffic down to two lanes:
“It’s not because we were worried that the slope would give way at any minute but because as those lanes shift as the asphalt begins to shifts there could me an unsafe drop off for motorcycles and things like that,” says Tanner.
Originally the goal was to keep the road open as normal for as long as possible since over 14,000 travel on this section each day.
Multiple smaller cracks appeared on other roads around the same time says Tanner. Often the mountains will stabilize themselves over time – this one didn’t.
“It doesn’t happen often at all. It’s just a record amount of rainfall this year,” he says. “When you get that much rainfall for as long as we have the material will give way.”
After monitoring the mountain, geotechnical engineers informed DOT that the road needed significant repairs. The project was transferred from maintenance to a full repair project.
“Originally we were just monitoring the slope. We have an device its called an inclinometer it measures the slope as it moves over time as it rains they were coming out,” explains Tanner.
Work has already begun to improve a drainage ditch along the road. The price tag for it is $1.9 million, says Tanner. They are waiting for additional federal funds to repair the rest of the road.
“It’s a two phase design where the soil nails are more of a temporary solution to stabilize the slope so that we can fix the travel lanes as quick as we can. Then fix the asphalt that is busted up and cracked there and then the horizontal drains will provide a more long term solution to that problem,” he says. The horizontal drains in the mountain side would work to pull moisture out of the slope to keep it stable.
Tanner says that in about two weeks their team will have an official plan to stabilize the mountain side. He expects the road not to be fully opened for at least two months.