I-40 detour clogs commute

Crews repairing sinking pavement south of Garner expect the lanes to reopen today

Staff WriterNovember 19, 2006 

Eastbound motorists on Interstate 40 will endure the slow scenic route again today as they detour around the freeway's sinking pavement just south of Garner.

Department of Transportation spokesman Andrew Sawyer said road crews found a "void" about 50 feet wide underneath the I-40 pavement near Exit 306. The gap crossed both eastbound lanes and shoulders and ranged from 2 feet to 12 feet deep in spots.

The DOT crews have been working to fill and repair the site since state Highway Patrol officials were called about the damaged pavement Friday evening.

Christopher W. McGee, a highway maintenance engineer with the DOT, estimated that the lanes will reopen shortly after noon today.

"The worst-case scenario is that they will reopen [tonight]," McGee said. "But, right now, I don't see any reason that would happen."

Traffic was rerouted at Exit 306 on the interstate onto Highway 70 for several miles. For through traffic, the best detour is U.S. 70 to Interstate 95 back to I-40. For local traffic, the best route is U.S. 70 West to N.C. 50 to N.C. 42 and back to I-40., Sawyer said.

The detour caused some unwelcome delays for commuters on Saturday.

Jesse A. Lambertson, a student at University of North Carolina at Wilmington, was on his way back to school from a jazz show in Durham.

He was eager to get back home to study. He said he stopped to gas up at the Kangaroo station about one mile from the detour because he had no idea how long he would be delayed. He also got coffee and an espresso drink. "I hate driving," he said as he gazed at the backup on U.S. 70.

Ray Brewer of Jacksonville was worried that the delay would add an additional two hours to his four-hour trip. He was traveling from Mount Airy, where he had dropped his children off for the Thanksgiving holidays. He recalled similar delays last year.

"Last year, they were working on the bridge. Now this. We can't seem to catch a break."

Inside the Kangaroo station at U.S. 70 and Raynor Road, the cash registers were jumping and lines were unusually long.

"It's been nonstop all day," said store manager Jewell Williams, who was busy restocking merchandise shelves and managing three employees.

McGee, the highway engineer, said the void occurred while some Raleigh utility workers were installing a steel casing for a sewer line.

"The drill ran into something underneath the land. We are not sure what they hit," said McGee. "They encountered quite a bit of ground water. ... It washed away quite a bit of dirt and caused a void to be left."

McGee said the source of the water is not yet known.

The DOT crew spent all day Saturday filling the void with a mixture of cement, sand, water and a special mixture that helps it dry faster. The crew had to drill two 12-inch diameter holes in each lane to pour in the filler. One part of the void was about the size of a small compact car and was about 12 feet deep, McGee said.

The other part of the void was about 10 feet wide, 30 feet long and 2 feet deep. The crew used 15 cubic yards of filler to fill the holes.

The cement takes about 24 hours to harden.

This morning the DOT crew is expected to arrive by 8 a.m. It will drill several 1-inch to 2-inch holes and pressure pump a special cement to build up the pavement and level it off so that travelers will not feel a bump when they drive over the affected area.

"We tested it, and you can feel a pretty significant jolt if you are driving 70 miles per hour," McGee said. He said that the jolt was not strong enough to cause a driver to lose control of a vehicle. However, if a car and truck were driving side by side, the jolt could be strong enough to sway one vehicle into the other.

McGee said that such voids underneath pavement are quite common, particularly in urban areas where utilities have to drill underground for sewer and other services. "What makes this case special is that it's I-40," McGee said.

Staff writer Vicki Lee Parker can be reached at 829-4898 or vparker@newsobserver.com

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