SYLVA — A mountain is moving.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has developed designs to adjust for that movement and repair a section of highway on Cowee Mountain in the coming months.
WNC Paving will begin a construction project in the next two weeks that will replace a failing wall and add a rock buttress for extra support on U.S. 23/441 between Franklin and Dillsboro.
“A section in Jackson County settled and shifted after a heavy rain event in February this year, and the road has settled several times since the road was built,” Division 14 Construction Engineer Ted Adams said. “Just like in the past, repairs were made by paving the road back to level. This summer, WNC Paving repaired or replaced much of the drainage.”
Those repairs aren’t enough to sustain the critical highway in the long run. This new construction, at an estimated cost of $13 million, will be much more significant than a paving or drainage project.
Geotechnical engineers from the NCDOT reviewed the location this summer and discovered the wall supporting the roadway had shifted. Such a shift signaled more than a drainage issue.
A complete geotechnical review — including soil borings — revealed the entire slope is moving. If that movement is not addressed, significant weather and simple time could lead to a collapse.
“Over the last two months, NCDOT has finished the analysis and design work to make a permanent fix to the failing wall and slope,” Adams said. “It is absolutely needed.”
Traffic will remain in a one-lane pattern utilizing the southbound lanes, much as it has over the summer, and the construction will last into the spring when good paving conditions return.
The first phase of the project involves excavating about 28 feet of dirt and rock from the two northbound lanes. Then a soil-nail wall will be built to support and stabilize the southbound lanes in use now. Once these steps are complete, the old wall will be removed and a rock buttress will be built to support the northbound lanes.
“We know that this highway is critical for people who live and work in Macon County and Jackson County, and folks who visit,” Adams said. “It is in everybody’s best interest to rebuild this section of road and create a long-lasting highway that will serve for many years to come.”
NCDOT reminds motorists to watch signs for construction information, remain alert, and obey the posted speed limit.