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Officials face weeks of work before Afton rockslide is cleared
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Officials face weeks of work before Afton rockslide is cleared

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After several weeks, officials still are looking at roughly a month and a half’s worth of work, weather permitting, before they can reopen one of two paths connecting the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia.

“The timeline that we’re looking at is probably mid-July ...” Will Stowe, Virginia Department of Transportation’s area construction engineer, said in an interview. “We do talk pretty much every day as to what steps we can take to beat that date.”

A portion of Rockfish Gap Turnpike, also known as U.S. 250, between the top of Afton Mountain and Critzer Shop Road, closed May 3 following a rockslide that dumped tons of soil, rocks and other debris onto the roadway below.

Stabilization of the slope is contingent on the installation of roughly 380 soil nails of varying lengths dotting up the mountainside connected by wire mesh and steel plates, Stowe said. The more densely populated 30-foot nails at the top of the unstable area will anchor the slope and smaller 20-foot nails will line the bottom.

Before contractors can drive those nails into the ground, however, crews first had to build an access road to the top of the 80-foot incline. More access roads will be built along the way and debris from the initial event will be used to construct additional roads before ultimately being hauled away once the work is complete, Stowe said.

The sheer height of the slide, which carried debris from an area roughly 80 feet tall by 240 feet wide, also presented some problems.

“The difficulty with this slide has been the height,” Stowe said.

Stowe said VDOT had to bring in two contractors for the job: one to build the access road and another to stabilize the remaining slope. VDOT currently is working on a second access road.

“The stabilization equipment that we have just doesn’t have the reach to get to the top of the slope from the ground. That’s really the limiting factor in what’s taking so long,” Stowe said.

Weeks after the initial event, ongoing efforts to cleanup the slide are met with sporadic instances of even more tumbling rocks, which Stowe said is to be expected as work continues.

“Whenever we are moving material to build the next [access road], rocks are still coming down,” Stowe said. “We will continue to see that and have rocks that will come down and need to be cleared out.”

Drivers are encouraged to use I-64 as the only path over Afton Mountain in the area, an early announcement from VDOT states. Virginia 6, a mountainous stretch of roadway, is open to passenger vehicles but is restricted to tractor-trailers unless they are making local deliveries.

Understanding the inconvenience to motorists, Stowe said contractors are working around the clock to have the slope stabilized and the route reopened.

“They are working to open the road as fast as we can,” Stowe said. “We’ll try to beat that [timeline] every single day.”

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