A rockslide on Interstate 40 near the Tennessee line Friday night has closed traffic in both directions indefinitely between exit 7 and exit 20.
Westbound lanes toward Tennessee are closed at exit 20, the Jonathan Creek exit. Eastbound lanes toward Asheville are closed at the exit 7, the Harmon Den exit.
The slide occurred about 7:30 p.m. on Friday (Feb. 22, 2019) when an estimated two dump truck loads of rocks fell from atop the slope and bounced into the westbound lanes. Later in the evening, smaller rocks ricocheted over the median necessitating the closure of eastbound lanes.
There were no known injuries, according to Haywood Emergency Management Director Greg Shuping.
As of Friday night, it was unclear when the interstate would be safe to reopen. Work to clear the debris was suspended due to larger concerns over the stability of the slope and whether more rock would come down.
“There’s no way to safely open I-40 tonight,” Division 14 Maintenance Engineer Wesley Grindstaff said Friday night. “A series of wheel-barrow sized rocks have come down. While our crews were clearing those out of the way, other rocks started coming down, too.”
Geotechnical experts will be on location at sunrise to assess the stability of the slope and the condition of the interstate.
As of 11 p.m. Friday night, traffic was still being cleared from the eastbound lanes. Traffic heading east on I-40 when the slide struck came to a complete stop, resulting in a massive back-up that had to be turned around and rerouted.
The heavy and sustained rainfall in recent days likely played a roll in the rockslide. The section of I-40 passing through the Pigeon River Gorge has been plagued by periodic rock slides since its completion in 1968, following nearly 20 years of construction to cut the 20-mile section through the steep, rocky terrain.
The detour directs traffic westbound back to Asheville on I-40. Drivers should then take I-240 East to I-26 West into Tennessee, then I-81 South back to I-40. Eastbound traffic should follow in reverse: I-40 to I-81 to I-26 to I-40.
The route from I-40 Exit 20 near Waynesville through Asheville into Johnson City and down to I-40 is approximately 160 miles. The entire detour from closure to closure is nearly 200 miles