Timetable uncertain for Newfound Gap Road repair

Timetable uncertain for Newfound Gap Road repair

Posted:
The 31-mile stretch of the road can have up to 7,000 cars travel on it during its busiest times. The 31-mile stretch of the road can have up to 7,000 cars travel on it during its busiest times.
For now, many drivers will have to find alternate ways to get to their destinations. For now, many drivers will have to find alternate ways to get to their destinations.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

CHEROKEE, N.C. (WATE) - Park officials are trying to figure out how to repair a large portion of  U.S. Highway 441 through Great Smoky Mountains National Park that washed away in heavy rain last Wednesday.  

Also known as Newfound Gap Road, U.S. 441 is the main road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, N.C.  

Officials say an estimated 9,000 dump truck-loads of dirt, rock and roadway crashed 45-50 feet down the side of the mountain.  

What used to be a road is now a gap about the size of a football field.    

"While it's challenging to think about repair solutions, it's not impossible," said park spokesperson Dana Soehn.  

Engineers believe a subsurface spring underneath the area was a large factor in causing the landslide. It's unknown how long the spring had been there,

Paired with heavy rain, the spring caused the embankment failure, according to officials.

"Prior to this slide occurring, the park had received approximately eight inches of rain in those three days, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday," said Alan Sumeriski, with the National Park Service.

Engineers considering the slide an "active" landslide because the subsurface springs are still flowing.  

"We're still seeing rain water on the surface. Those springs were active underneath. We had some active springs above the slide," said Sumeriski.  

The National Park Service is working with the Department of Federal Highways to come up with a plan to fix it.

Park service has employed the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division (EFLH) to assist in the initial evaluation of the slide and develop repair solutions.  

Geotechnical engineers have been on site since last week. Surveyors were there Sunday. 

"They arrived Saturday, they'll continue with their activity, surveying the site and damage at least through Tuesday morning," said Sumeriski.  

The 31-mile stretch of the road can have up to 7,000 cars travel on it during its busiest times.   For now, many drivers will have to find alternate ways to get to their destinations.

"It's going to take me back about an hour. It stinks, it really stinks," said Carlos Lopez, who was trying to get back to Atlanta with his wife.  

Officials are uncertain when the road will be repaired. They hope by the end of next week they will know when construction could start and how much it would cost.

Officials say the recent snowfall actually helped to dry out the site and made it easy for crews to get closer to the active slide.  

"The site started to stabilize itself and we started to see the drying conditions occur, so that allowed engineers to get in closer to the perimeter of the active slide," Sumeriski said.    

Newfound Gap Road will be open to visitors from the Gatlinburg entrance in Tennessee to the Newfound Gap parking lot as soon as it is possible.

The road is open to Smokemont on the North Carolina side.

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