(Update 3/13/2020 at 3pm)
Over the past week, tension cracks and a new escarpment have developed above the slide location along U.S. 19/74 in the Nantahala Gorge. The highway will be closed for three more weeks, according to NC DOT.
Additional drilling and blasting is required to remove debris. This work will require the highway to remain closed for about three weeks. Drivers will continue to be routed through Robbinsville, which adds about 20 minutes to a one-way commute. Drivers heading longer distances through the gorge — between Sylva and Murphy — may choose to use U.S. 441 and U.S. 64.
“The highway is not safe for the traveling public during the upcoming operations due to the unstable nature of the area and dangers associated with the work,” Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch said. “We realize the disruption to traditional travel will continue, and we want to open the highway as soon as possible. But we have to do so when conditions are safe.”
NC DOT says that U.S. 19/74 through the Nantahala Gorge will be closed for a week while a crew works to stabilize the rock walls of the gorge. This work comes after two rockslides have already happened in the same spot this year.
Starting March 9, crews will be scaling a slide area near Ferebee Memorial Picnic Area with hand tools including axes, shovels, and pry-bars to remove loose materials. Then they will begin placing stabilizing rods and netting over a 9,000 sq ft region. This will keep more rockslides from happening, explains DOT spokesperson David Uchiyama.
“Well that’s our hope. Our dream is that there won’t ever be any more rockslides in Western North Carolina ever. But we are realistic people,” says Uchiyama.
“So you have to tackle the problem areas. And this one site in the Nantahala Gorge is a problem area, it’s a repeat offender. So that is what needs to be taken care of.”
The project will cost $450,000. Uchiyama says the road is a key connector for Western North Carolina. Once the scaling is complete, likely on Sunday, March 15, traffic will return to the current one-lane pattern with a traffic signal at the slide area.
“Once it opens back to one lane, drivers will need to be cautious in the area and expect the unexpected, like seeing workers dangling by ropes from the hillside like mountain climbers,” says Zach Shuler, NCDOT assistant district engineer in a press release.
During the closure, the detour will direct westbound traffic from U.S. 19/74 to N.C. 28 to Stecoah, N.C. 143 to Robbinsville and U.S. 129 to Topton and U.S. 74. Eastbound traffic will go to Robbinsville and then Stecoah en route back to U.S. 19/74. Visitors may still access the Nantahala Outdoor Center from the east.
The roadway should open to two-way traffic by the first weekend in April.