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VDOT still working to assess, devise plan of action at site of Afton Mountain rock slide

The stretch of U.S. 250 between Route 6 and Route 151 on Afton Mountain has been closed since May 3, and there is still no firm date for when it will be reopened to traffic, according to the VDOT engineer overseeing the project.

“I think still saying a number of weeks is accurate at this point. As we continue to progress and make more repairs in the area, we’ll have a better idea of when we can reopen the road,” said Carrie Shepheard, the residency engineer in VDOT’s Charlottesville office.

VDOT has been on site the past week and a half assessing the extent of the slide and developing a plan of action, which Shepheard said is being modified as the situation continues to develop.

Complicating the plan of action is the reality that rock is continuing to fall into the roadway, which is making the area unsafe for work crews and the assessment team.

The approach at this stage will focus on pulling rock from the unstable slope that has been giving way, and to investigate a method calling soil nail, which involves inserting rods into the side of the slope, pumping grout through the rods to fill voids in the side of the slope to help stabilize it, then concreting the side to finish the operation.

“We feel like this is our best path forward, because the additional step of doing the soil nails and not just pulling down the rock that is falling, the advantage to that is to stabilize it and hopefully not have to come back in the future,” Shepheard said.

For the foreseeable near future, then, U.S. 250 will be in essence unavailable for through traffic between the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia, leaving us with Interstate 64 as the sole point of contact between east and west.

The good news, at least, is that VDOT has confirmed that I-64 is not at risk from the rock slide, which is in an area roughly 100 yards down slope from the interstate.

“The area that has failed, if you go up on top, which we have, very cautiously, and look, there’s a line where you can see where the rock has broken, and it will not affect 64. So we’re very happy to see that, because we were worried at first, but we have definitely confirmed at this point that is not the case,” Shepheard said.

Great news there, indeed. VDOT in 2016 pegged the average annual daily traffic of Interstate 64 over Afton Mountain at 18,000 vehicles a day both eastbound and westbound in 2016, with an additional 6,700-7,000 vehicles using the stretch of U.S. 250 between the Nelson County and Albemarle County lines that is currently closed to traffic.

We don’t want to imagine even a short term without I-64 as a connection point, pushing that high volume of interstate traffic onto U.S. 250 and the curvy Route 6 for months.

Which isn’t to say that VDOT isn’t dealing with traffic flow issues with the current situation.

Lou Hatter, the communications manager for VDOT’s Culpeper District, said the transportation department has been in contact with the Virginia Trucking Association to get the word out to truck drivers that the detour down Route 6 is not an option.

“Route 6 is a restricted route. Through tractor trailers are not allowed to be on Route 6 between 151 and 250, and this is not a restriction that’s related to the slide and the closure of 250. That’s a permanent truck restriction. Tractor trailers should not be on that road, and tractor trailer drivers should know that,” Hatter said.

Virginia State Police have stepped up patrols in the area, and VDOT has installed LED portable message boards in the area with a message about the truck prohibition on Route 6.

VDOT is also using a CB wizard at the top of Afton Mountain to broadcast the message to truckers that Route 6 is a truck-restricted route.

“Often when we have a situation like this, the first few days, people are trying to get accustomed to new traffic patterns and detours and things. We’re really hoping as the word gets out in the trucking community that we will have less and less of issues with trucks on that road,” Hatter said.

This as the work continues to try to correct for the issues that caused the rock slide down the mountain.

“We’re doing everything that we can to get the reopen the road reopened as quickly as we can,” Shepheard said. “We’ve pulled in a lot of additional resources. We’ve had various meetings, put our heads together. I think we have a really good plan at this point. Again, we’re still not sure what we’re going to find. We’re working through that day by day as we get there. It’s just going to take us some time to get there. We just have to be careful and cautious and make sure that we’re keeping our workers safe as we as we continue to make these repairs.”

Story by Chris Graham

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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