Story by Chris Graham
It’s just … time.
The Skyline Drive was built back in the 1930s and was last touched up in the mid-1980s.
“Essentially it’s time for a new construction,” Shenandoah National Park spokesperson Karen Beck-Herzog said of the work that has begun on the drive between Milepost 31.5 at Thornton Gap and Milepost 65.5 at Swift Run.
The reconstruction work will begin in earnest in the spring – given that paving work cannot begin in the winter due to issues with freezing up on the peaks of the Blue Ridge.
The focus here at the outset of the year-long project is getting things ready for paving.
“It’s an interesting time for Skyline Drive, because paving work can’t be done in these cold temperatures. So what we have up top is we have our contractor doing some saw cuts, removing a little bit of the pavement and replacing culverts, making sure that the water can go from one side of the Skyline Drive to the other,” Beck-Herzog said in an interview for “The Augusta Free Press Show” last week.
The roadway has deteriorated significantly in some places along the drive, Beck-Herzog said.
“We’re going to be going into those places where it has significantly deteriorated and essentially be ripping out what’s there – taking out the asphalt, going all the way down to the base, and then replacing all of that,” Beck-Herzog said.
Which will require patience on the part of Skyline Drive visitors in the spring and summer.
“We’ll be ripping out pavement, so they should be aware that there will be stretches where it will just be a gravel surface. And obviously they’ll need to adjust their speeds,” Beck-Herzog said.
“But it will always be safe. We’ll always have at least one lane of traffic open where we are doing construction. We figure that there will be no more than maybe two spots that the contractor will be working – so at best, at most, maybe a 30-minute delay with those two sections overall,” Beck-Herzog said.
But hey, if you’re on the Skyline Drive, it’s not like you’re exactly in a hurry to get from one place to the next anyway, right?
“The whole idea of being up on the Skyline Drive is to slow down overall. It’s a 35-mile-an-hour road – and it really is to be able to stop and kind of enjoy nature and be able to kind of recreate ourselves, to reconnect ourselves to nature. And sometimes it affords you the opportunity to stop, roll down the windows, look out at the vista or look at the trees, and you never know, maybe a black bear will come wandering out,” Beck-Herzog said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.