Nearly eight weeks after a rock slide dumped tons of soil and rocks onto U.S. 250 — Rockfish Gap Turnpike — in early May, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced Wednesday the roadway has reopened to traffic and the above slope now is stabilized.
A slope failure May 3 resulted in the partial closure of Rockfish Gap Turnpike between Critzers Shop Road and Afton Mountain Road in Nelson County.
The project was finished roughly two weeks ahead of a forecasted mid-July completion date. According to a news release from VDOT, traffic patterns have returned to normal, but the thru-tractor trailer ban remains in effect for Afton Mountain Road unless they are making a local delivery.
Lou Hatter, communications manager with VDOT’s Culpeper division, said VDOT was "very pleased" to reopen the roadway weeks ahead of anticipated date.
"We were cautiously optimistic we could get it open sooner than mid-July but there were a lot of factors that would play into that," Hatter said. "Everything came together, the weather worked in our favor and the contractors were willing to work six days a week."
Virginia State Police and the Nelson County Sheriff's Office will continue to patrol the area and enforce tractor-trailer restrictions through the holiday weekend, Hatter said. Signs and other deterrents will remain in place except for portable message boards, he added.
"The successful completion of this project was the result of cooperation between multiple agencies, including VDOT, the Virginia State Police and the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office, as well as Nelson County officials. Three VDOT districts, Culpeper, Lynchburg and Staunton, as well as VDOT’s Northwestern Regional Operations group, contributed resources to the project," the release reads.
During the past eight weeks, contractors with VDOT have worked nearly around the clock to repair and stabilize the slope above U.S. 250, removing loose soil, trees and rocks as well as drilling numerous soil nails into the roughly 80-foot tall by 240-foot wide area.
North District Supervisor Tommy Harvey said it was "just wonderful" to have the roadway reopened ahead of schedule.
He thanked all the agencies and law enforcement involved for their continued efforts to clear the rock slide.
"It took a little while and government doesn't move fast, but they solved most of the problems as far as the trucks and that will continue," Harvey said. "The people have put up with a lot but its something that happens that nobody has control over, but you've just got to make the best to fit. I know everybody is going to be happy."
The soil nail operation followed the removal of the loose material and consisted of 350 rods being drilled into the mountainside and secured with cement and a mesh similar to a chain-link fence, the release states. In a final step to stabilize the slope, the area was covered with a grass seed and straw mixture.
A survey revealed a smaller section of potentially unstable slope near the main slide which VDOT corrected. The area measured about 100 feet wide by 25 feet high, the release states.
Hatter said geologists evaluated the main slide had noticed the smaller unstable area that could potentially have a slide in the near future.
With resources on hand and the road already closed, officials removed the unstable material and drilled soil nails in that area as well.
To the frustration of some Afton Mountain Road residents, the rock slide has lead to a significant increase in tractor-trailer traffic along the mountainous and winding roadway. VDOT invested significant resources into deterrents — through additional signage, radio messages and increased law enforcement presence — in an effort to combat the illegal usage of Virginia 6.
Hatter said he appreciated residents' patience during these past eight weeks.
"I want to reiterate how much we appreciate the patience and forbearance of the people who live up there … for what they’ve had to put up with for the past eight weeks," Hatter said.
Victoria Dunham, a resident of Afton Mountain Road, said she was trilled to learn U.S. 250 had reopened, alleviating the pressures and concerns her and her neighbors have felt these past weeks.