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Heavy rain is believed to have weakened roadbed and caused a 200-foot-long crack just north of Asheville, N.C.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
A 20-mile stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina might be closed for months due to a slope failure beneath the roadbed.
A crack that measures 200 feet long, 8 inches wide and up to 5 feet deep opened in the center of the parkway near milepost 374 in Buncombe County, just north of Asheville, N.C. Engineers believe that the crack formed because excessive rains caused fill material below the road to give way.
The parkway will be closed between mileposts 355 and 375, perhaps through the end of the summer. A detour will be established near Mount Mitchell State Park that will direct travelers to Asheville.
The closed stretch of parkway runs atop similar fill slopes as where the crack occurred. Parkway officials believed it prudent to close the entire segment.
Road shoulders along the stretch have also been “slumping,” said Mike Molling, the parkway’s chief of maintenance and engineering.
A reconstruction project in 2010 stabilized the roadbed along the currently closed stretch, which prompts engineers to believe the problem is farther below the road. The road was closed near milepost 358 this spring due to rockslides.
“Everything indicates a real instability below the road,” Molling said.
He said that the Asheville region, like much of the mid-Atlantic, has received more rain this summer than it has in the past four decades. The extra water has caused the slope failures, he said.
Engineers from the Federal Highway Administration will arrive in Asheville this week to assess the damage and plan repairs.
The 20-mile stretch of parkway could be closed until October, the busiest month for the scenic road, when visitors head to the mountains to enjoy autumn colors. More than 15.2 million people visited the parkway in 2012.
The closure is the latest pothole for the parkway, which was forced to close several campgrounds and visitors centers this year due to the automatic budget cuts caused by the federal sequester. The parkway cut nearly $800,000 from its budget by closing facilities, eliminating 38 seasonal positions and leaving 10 full-time jobs vacant.
The parkway also has a $450 million backlog of maintenance projects and has not been able to keep up with simple tasks such as mowing roadsides and clearing overlooks due to the loss of personnel over the past decade.
The 20-mile closing comes during the parkway’s second-busiest month of the year.
“We hate to close the road in the summer,” Molling said. “We will do everything we can to get the road open as soon as we can, but it will not be a simple project.”
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