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DOT plans ahead to stave off slides

Rather than continuing a reactive approach to rockslides on Interstate 40, the DOT is making a widespread effort to prevent disasters like the Oct. 25 slide from occurring again.

The DOT says it will invest $4 million to stabilize five other sites that have either experienced slides in the past or are likely sources of future slides. The money will hopefully come from federal highway emergency funds.

“If there’s a silver lining in all of this,” said Jon Nance, DOT’s chief engineer of operations, “it’s that we’ve located other areas that need to be repaired to prevent another occurrence like this one.”

All of the sites are in the final five miles of the Pigeon River Gorge before reaching the Tennessee line. The area is known for instability and has been prone to slides since its construction. When a second rock slide struck six weeks ago — in the same vicinity as the major slide — it triggered an assessment of the corridor to identify particularly unstable spots.

This additional work will not affect the reopening of I-40, though one mile of the westbound lane will be closed until this summer to finish it.

The DOT estimates the new project will employ between 50 to 100 more people. The first step is removing unstable rock in a process called scaling, which involves men with crowbars dislodging loose rock. Large bolts will then be set deeply into the mountain to snug down the rock face.

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