23/441 update

Five lanes are projected to be open again on the stretch of U.S. 23/441 crossing Cowee Mountain by mid-December.

By Dave Russell


An updated timeline from the N.C. Department of Transportation suggests U.S. 23/441 over Cowee Mountain will open back to five lanes by Dec. 15.

Traffic has funneled from four lanes to two since fall of 2019 as crews repair the troublesome stretch of road.

The issue is on a hillside that has been slowly shifting for decades and seen multiple repairs over the years.

Maybe this time is different.

“We feel very confident that we have stabilized the slope,” NCDOT Resident Engineer Nathan Tanner  said. “All lanes of traffic will be open to the public no later than Dec. 15.”

During construction the mountain continued to move and in order to repair the road, crews kept adding layers to it, NCDOT spokesman David Uchiyama said.

To get the road back to its original condition, NCDOT will have to shift lanes and level them off, get the grade where it needs to be and repave.

Traffic patterns could continue to change during the fall.

“We’re doing that in three different phases – the outside lanes first, then the middle, then the other outside lanes,” he said.

Once the lanes are at proper grade they will be painted.

“There will be 1.5 inches of pavement there with paint,” Uchiyama said. “We will leave it through the wintertime, let it settle.”

Winter is not a good time for painting due to lower temperatures.

NCDOT would come back in the spring and pave the final 1.5 inches and take care of any other small remaining details to complete the project, he said.

The repair was a two-step process.

The first phase of the project included significant drainage repairs and excavating about 18,000 cubic yards of earth material to build a soil-nail wall and maintain traffic in the two-lane pattern.

The second phase was like building one side of a pyramid, starting with a buttress of large stone at the bottom and working up to smaller stone. It included adding about 123,000 tons of shot-rock to build the buttress and an additional 105,000 tons of smaller stone to build the embankment, Uchiyama said.

The building up of the rock buttress on the slope is complete.