Landslide on 441 makes for longer trip to Cherokee

N.C. businesses hope incentives open road sooner
Apr. 08, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

While the landslide that has closed U.S. Route 441 between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, N.C., doesn’t seem to have affected business too much on this side of the mountain, the same can’t be said for our neighbors to the east.

Businesses inside the Qualla Boundary have felt a pinch created by the loss of tourist traffic from the Sevier County area.

The full length of U.S. Highway 441 has been closed since Jan. 15, when the landslide took out 200 feet of the road, prompting the U.S. government to declare a state of emergency in the area.

Swain County’s Smoky Mountain Times reported last month that construction to repair the highway is going well.

Jason Lambert, director of commerce for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, attributed that to the tribe and National Park offering an incentive for work to be completed in a timely manner.

With a completion date has been set to May 15, the groups offered the construction company in charge — Phillips & Jordan, Inc., of Robbinsville, N.C. — an $18,000 bonus for each day the project is completed ahead of schedule, up to $500,000.

“That highway is absolutely vital to our economy,” Lambert told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “Even when it’s temporarily closed in the winter due to adverse weather, it affects our local businesses. We’re interested in the completion of the project in as timely manner as possible.”

While business at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino hasn’t been obviously affected, smaller mom-and-pop type businesses have noticed the slow down in traffic.

Several small business owners and workers at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual facility in Cherokee told The Mountain Press last month the first part of the year has been especially slow with the decreased traffic.

They’d heard positive speculation that the road work would be completed early, thanks to the incentives, but nothing has been confirmed on that front as of yet.

“One of our goals is to try to get this repaired as quickly as possible, because we understand that it does affect the surrounding communities,” said park spokeswoman Molly Schroer told the paper in late February.

Schroer said Phase 1 construction began soon after the landslide — which was caused by torrential rainfall — occurred, and consisted of removing debris, developing an access road to the slide area and stabilizing the slope above the work area.

Phase 2 has consisted of filling the gap with 40,000 cubic yards — or about 4,000 dump trucks — of material, as well as rebuilding the paved roadway as a reinforced full slope roadway.

U.S. Route 441 has long been a highway frequented by tourists traveling between Cherokee and Gatlinburg through the Great Smoky Mountains.

Though the 33-mile drive routinely takes an hour or more because of the tourist traffic and winding road, it cuts the travel time of the current detour in half. That route takes travelers up Interstate 40 East into North Carolina to the Maggie Valley exit and through the mountains to Cherokee.