Newfound Gap Road reopens 30 days earlier than expected
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopened to traffic on Monday just 89 days after being closed because of a landslide.
The Federal Highway Administration awarded a $3.9 million contract to repair the Newfound Gap Road landslide to Phillips & Jordan Inc., of Robbinsville, N.C. The company earned a $500,000 bonus for completing the repairs well before the May 15 deadline.
“We’re here 30 days early,” GSMNP Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said during a press conference to announce the reopening of the road. “The project is done.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said the opening even made Tax Day good. “I never thought I’d like April 15 as a day ever, but this year April 15 is a good day because we’re opening this road.”
The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and the National Park Service ponied up the money for a $18,000 per-day bonus for each day the road opened early. EBCI Principal Chief Michell Hicks said, “We had to do it. Our estimate was that this was going to affect Cherokee by $1 million.”The economic impact on surrounding communities every day the road was closed added to the sense of urgency to complete the project. “We recognize the economic importance of the road to our neighboring communities and are grateful that our partners at Federal Highways Administration were able to respond efficiently to our need and work with the contractors to make the necessary repairs in less than 90 days,” Ditmanson said.
APAC Harrison Division completed Phase 1 of the reconstruction project on Feb. 21 by developing the access road to the slide area, removing debris and stabilizing the slope above the work area. P&J mobilized equipment on Feb. 22 to begin Phase 2 of the reconstruction project, which included rebuilding the roadway and filling the area washed away during the landslide with crushed stone.
The final design includes more than 200 feet of pipes to allow for the drainage of subsurface water flow, along with 150 feet of side drainage leading to a culvert at the end of the slope. This drainage system and pervious crushed stone material will further protect the road and park resources from future damage due to both overflow and subsurface water flow. The fill area was naturally sloped and planted with seed. In addition, erosion measures were put into place along the 900-foot debris field below the landslide, which was also seeded.
Park visits down
The closure took a toll on park visitation. Total visitation for March was down 23.8 percent as compared with March 2012. During March a total of 465,594 visitors came into the Park as compared with 611,326 in 2012, a decrease of 145,732 visitors.
Visitation for entrances:
• Gatlinburg: 158,953
• Townsend: 90,299
• Oconaluftee: 46,717
• Outlying areas: 169,625
Visitation for January through March was 983,664 visitors, which is 250,334 fewer than in 2012, and 47.4 percent below the five-year average. It has been the lowest visitation for January through March in more than five years.