Surveyors, media members glance at Newfound Gap landslide aftermath
By J.J. Kindred | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A landslide that closed down Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) last Wednesday was caused by a saturation of soils and a lateral spring flowing through the mountain, according to officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Surveyors and Park staff are working with the Department of Federal Highway’s Construction and Geotechnical Services to evaluate the landslide damage and to begin planning for repairs. Several surveyors were on the landslide site Sunday afternoon, as Park officials gave members of the media a glimpse of the aftermath of the landslide, which wiped out at least 200 feet of roadway near mile marker 22 between Collins Creeks and Webb Overlook.
The location is between Newfound Gap parking lot and Cherokee, N.C. The debris field for the slide is about 90,000 cubic feet — about 9,000 dump truck loads — and 45 feet deep.
“As that material sluffed off, it brought with it about 200 feet of road, but the debris field was measured it to 900 yards, about three football fields in length,” said Dana Soehn, Park public affairs assistant. “While it’s a challenging project, to think about repair solutions, it’s not impossible. We are working with our partners with the Federal Highways Administration to develop those designs for the solutions, and come up with a time line as to how to get this road repaired.
“As you all know, this is an artery between the Tennessee and North Carolina communities. That’s important to all of us,” Soehn continued. “This 31-mile length road is also the main access road for the visitors to see the rest of the park. It’s important for us to be able to provide access to all of our visitors as well.”
The Park is evaluating the remainder of the roadway, but anticipates Newfound Gap Road will be opened to visitors from the Gatlinburg entrance in Tennessee to Newfound Gap parking lot as soon as possible. The road will be open to the Smokemont campground on the North Carolina side.
Newfound Gap had received 11 inches of rain as of Sunday. There were several temporary road closures throughout the park due to high water.
“Our immediate response was to secure the site,” said Alan Sumeriski, acting deputy superintendent at the Park. “Fortunately, the road was closed that morning and knew we didn’t have to worry about any visitors traveling it. The road was actually closed due to some flooding just below the slide here, so we had no concern about the stability of the actual road surface or embankments.
“We were unaware of this surface spring, which causes embankment failure,” Sumeriski continued. “Immediately following the embankment failure, we secured the scene. “We’ve employed our partners with Federal Highways Administration to conduct an initial evaluation of the slide. Friday morning we had two technicians on the site, and they are looking at it to develop some conceptual repair solutions. We will continue with activities surveying the site through Tuesday morning. We will start to discuss design solutions with our road engineers, and start to develop a construction estimate and time line.”
Sumeriski said it was too early to speculate a time frame as to when the road would be repaired and reopened.
“Until we understand the design solutions and strategies, we’re not in a position to share that yet,” he said. “As we move into contractor phase, we will reach into the private sector to hire a contractor with hopefully adequate resources and anticipate an expeditious repair.”