BRYSON CITY – A major highway in the mountains is set to reopen tonight — one day earlier than expected.
N.C. Department of Transportation officials expect to open U.S. 19/74 in the Nantahala Gorge around 8 p.m. following two days and two nights of cleanup and repairs from four slides.
“We are extremely happy to open up this critical highway for the folks who live around here, those who use it regularly, as well as all of the visitors to the area,” Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch said. “I am extremely proud of our NCDOT crews and the help of our partners.”
A severe deluge dropped 3.5 inches of rain in the gorge on Saturday night and triggered slides that covered the road in four locations within a half-mile stretch on the western side of the gorge.
NCDOT crews from four counties responded to the damage and helped open the highway 24 hours earlier than the initial estimate. Crews from Cherokee and Graham started on the east side and were assisted by crews from Swain and Jackson counties, plus bridge maintenance and roadside environmental staff.
Crews in trackhoes, front-end loaders, and dump trucks hauled away mud, soil, rocks, limbs and trees from the road, the shoulders and ditches. On Monday, they cut dangerous trees, cleaned pipes, and cleared drainage structures.
A separate crew worked through the night to rebuild an embankment and the shoulder where an 80-foot swatch of debris crashed through the guardrail and into the river, knocking down limbs 20 feet above the road along the way.
“They built it all the way back up to the roadway elevation by sunrise,” Division 14 Maintenance Engineer Wesley Grindstaff said. “That’s incredible work by those guys.”
Crews will return to the gorge on Tuesday to start the finishing repairs. Slight delays of up 10 minutes may be necessary while they repair guardrail, improve erosion control and resurface spots or sections of the road surface.
“Our crews performed great work for our friends and neighbors,” Burch said. “We have run through a range of emotions since Saturday. We are now happy and relieved.”