U.S. Highway 64 in the Ocoee River Gorge in Polk County is closed to through traffic until a large rockslide can be cleaned up.
The rockslide occurred Wednesday evening just before 9 at mile marker 11 near State Route 30 and Maddens Branch, according to TDOT Region 2 Community Relations Officer Jennifer Flynn.
“The area where the slide occurred is the same place that we installed a rockfall fence following a rockslide that occurred in January 2010,” she said.
“Fortunately the rockfall fence held back most of the material, but the catchment area is full and in danger of overflowing. The roadway is closed to traffic until we can determine what we're up against. Nothing will be done on this until daylight, because the situation is just too dangerous and unpredictable.”
TDOT engineers will assess the situation this morning and decide what to do next.
“Wright Brothers [an area construction company] is bringing in a crane to deal with some of the material and make more room behind the fence and take it from there,” Flynn said. “Our goal is to get the roadway open as quickly as possible, but we want everybody to be safe.”
She said TDOT Operations personnel are on the scene manning the detour routes and message boards are in place to inform the traveling public.
“Unfortunately, the detour is long, but there are not many options in that area,” Flynn said. “The detour route is approximately 81 miles long, but the roads are four-lane most of the way.”
Flynn said it is very fortunate the slides along the gorge have not killed or injured anyone. The slide on Jan. 19, 2010, occurred when the road was closed by the much bigger rockslide near Dam No. 2.
“We were fortunate then because the road was closed and no one was hurt. None of our people were hurt and none of the public was hurt,” she said. “But, when we cleaned that slide up, when we got to a certain point, we stopped because we were so concerned that if we got into the mountainside too much more we would destabilize even more material. We got it to a certain point and then installed the rockfall fence.”
TDOT installed the fence in case of another rockslide.
“This one was right where that fence is. There has been some material moving the past couple of days and we cleaned out the catchment area behind the fence and felt we had it to the point where we could leave it, then the larger slide happened last night,” she said. “The fence held, but there is so much material piled up behind the fence that we’re concerned it could overflow and that’s why the road is closed.”
TDOT Commissioner John Schroer announced earlier in the month he had designated $10.1 million from the TDOT budget to upgrade 11 spots along the roadway.
That work was expected to begin at anytime after the Aug. 16 announcement. The road was to remain open during the upgrades.
Flynn said this morning she did not know if mile marker 11 was part of the upgrade and improvement areas.
“The 11 projects identified by the commissioner would not have closed the road, so it probably was not on the list of upgrades.”
In late 2009 and early 2010, TDOT took the opportunity to do preventative maintenance along the gorge while contractors cleared the Nov. 10, 2009, and the Jan. 10, 2010, rockslides. The road was closed until April 14, 2010.
For those traveling East on U.S. 64, take U.S. 411 in Ocoee, take a right on SR-68 in Madisonville, then travel back to U.S. 64 in Ducktown.
For those traveling West on U.S. 64, take SR-68 in Ducktown to U.S. 411 in Madisonville, then travel back to U.S. 64 in Ocoee.