Skip to main content

I-40 rockslide uncovers old debates on highway

The Asheville Citizen-Times continues to do a great job covering all the angles of the Interstate 40 Haywood County rock slide.

An article in Sunday's edition provides a strong historical perspective on how the Pigeon River routing of Interstate 40 came about. And perhaps most strikingly, in an article that ran just prior to the highway's opening in the fall of 1968, how engineers from both Tennessee and North Carolina warned "...that slides would probably be a major problem along the route for many years."

On February 12, 1969, not long after the Interstate opened, the first rock slide that would close I-40 occurred.

Like many other Interstates within North Carolina, Interstate 40 through the mountains has a history prior to formation of the Interstate Highway System and was also a heated political battle between local communities.

The discussion for a road that would eventually become Interstate 40 dates back to the 1940's as the idea for interregional highways were being promoted within and outside of North Carolina. North Carolina completed two studies in the 1940's - a 1945 study looked at a French Broad route into Tennessee and a 1948 study looked at a Pigeon River route.

The early 1950's was when the debate between the two routes really heated up. Haywood County leaders publicly argued that a 1921 NC provision that called for the building of roads between county seats including roads that connected to county seats in other states. Haywood officials wanted their road contending that "Madison [County] has had three roads to Tennessee built under this act."

They also mentioned that the right-of-way for the US 25/70 “interregional highway or Super Highway” was too narrow.

The die was cast in June 1952 when NC Governor H. Kerr Scott allocated $1 million towards the Pigeon River road. It also seemed that the state of Tennessee preferred the Pigeon River Route.

When the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956, I-40 would be routed along the Pigeon River route.

It would take over ten years to complete Interstate 40 through Haywood County.

Besides the concerns from engineers about possible slides prior to the highway's opening, there is another aspect to the highway that I learned from this article. The travel lanes for Interstate 40 through the Pigeon River Gorge today are slightly different than they were when the highway opened in 1968.

Beginning in the late 1970s through 1985, and due to the safety concerns from frequent slides, the travel lanes of Interstate 40 were shifted towards the Pigeon River. What happened were the eastbound lanes were shifted over to what were then the westbound lanes. The westbound lanes were then constructed closer to the Pigeon River. From there, the slopes were stabilized as much as possible by clearing rocks, isolated blasting, rock bolts and mesh, along with barrier walls.

Ironically, that same year a rock slide at mile marker 4 closed the highway for nearly nine months.

Since then more repairs and safety upgrades have been made in between the next slide, and the same will be done once I-40 re-opens. The geography of the area makes the perfect fix next to impossible. The ultimate solution would cost millions, possibly billions, of dollars to complete and would certainly face numerous financial let alone environmental hurdles.

Most engineers today admit that if with modern technology and standards, Interstate 40 through the Pigeon River Gorge wouldn't even be built.

“I would say today, if we had no road through Haywood, with the advances in geotechnology, we would never try to build an interstate-type road down there, unless there was just no place else to put it,” retired NCDOT engineer Stan Hyatt said. “It's just an area that's full of nothing but fractured rock waiting to fall off.”

Comments

J-Dawg's Realm said…
Do you have any pictures or anything showing where they planned to put (what is now) I-40 before they put it along Pigeon River? Driving that stretch of highway, I have to give them the credit that is due -- putting a highway thru there like they did when they did is a feat! Until the slide, I have been thru there no less than 2-3 dozen times,and I am astounded each and every time at how they were able to build such a highway not only on unstable ground and make it as stable as they do with the amount of truck traffic that travels through there.

Popular posts from this blog

Where the hell is Hill Valley? (US Route 8 south/US Route 395 east)

Recently I made a visit to Universal Studios near Los Angeles.  While on the back lot tour I came across a piece of infamous movie-borne fictional highway infamy; the location of town square of Hill Valley, California on US Route 8/US Route 395. The above photo is part of the intro scene to the first Back-to-the-Future movie which was set in 1985. To anyone who follows roadways the signage error of US 8 meeting US 395 in California is an immediately notable error.  For one; US 8 doesn't even exist anywhere near California with present alignment being signed as an east/west highway between Norway, Michigan and Forest Lake, Minnesota.  To make matters worse US 8 is signed as a southbound route and US 395 (a north/south highway) is signed as an eastbound route.  At minimum the cut-out US 8 and US 395 shields somewhat resemble what Caltrans used in the 1980s. Assuming Hill Valley is located on what would have been US 395 by 1985 what locales would be a viable real world analog? 

The Vague Original Southern Terminus of US Route 91 in the Californian Mojave Desert

One of the more intriguing mysteries of the early US Route System in California is where the original south terminus of US Route 91 was intended to be located in the Mojave Desert.  This blog is a little different than my usual behind the wheel fare and explores why US Route 91 ultimately ended at US Route 66 in Daggett instead of Bannock. What ultimately became the US Route System was first discussed during the American Association of State Highway Officials ("AASHO") during their annual 1924 meeting.  Ultimately the AASHO recommended to the Department of Agriculture to work with the States to develop a system of Interstate Highways to replace the many Auto Trails in use.  The Joint Board on Interstate Highways was ultimately commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and it's branch agency the Bureau of Public Roads in March of 1925.  The Joint Board on Interstate Highways first met in April of 1925 and decided on the new interstate road network would be known a

Legend of the Ridge Route; a history of crossing the mountains between the Los Angeles Basin and San Joaquin Valley from wagon trails to Interstates

Over the past two decades I've crossed the Interstate 5 corridor from Los Angeles north over the Sierra Pelona Mountains and Tehachapi Range to San Joaquin Valley what seems to be an immeasurable number of times.  While Interstate 5 from Castaic Junction to Grapevine via Tejon Pass today is known to most as "The Grapevine" it occupies a corridor which has been traversed by numerous historic highways.  The most notable of these highways is known as the "Ridge Route."  This article is dedicated to the Ridge Route and the various highways that preceded it.  The Ridge Route is a 44 mile section of highway which was completed in 1915.  The Ridge Route originally stretched from Castaic Junction north over Liebre Summit and Tejon Pass to the tiny community of Grapevine.  In spite of a roadway that once utilized nearly 700 curves the Ridge Route is generally considered far ahead of it's time and one of the first modern highways constructed for automotive use.