A road used by Virginia residents to reach Mount Airy has been closed indefinitely due to an “unusual” situation in which a hump has appeared in the pavement and created a safety hazard.
The problem affects Willis Gap Mountain Road, which is now shut down from Route 608 (Boundary Road) to Route 677 (Orchard View Drive). While homes in the area can be reached from either side of the blockage, a detour has been announced for motorists wanting to reach the other end during the closure.
It is blamed on a malfunctioning pipe running underneath the roadway, which rose about 18 inches on one end and caused the hump that was dangerous for motorists.
“That’s why we took the measure to close the road until we can get this corrected,” Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Resident Engineer Lisa Hughes said earlier this week.
The pipe failure occurred in an area along Willis Gap Mountain Road where a slope-stabilization project was completed in 2014.
Normally, crews could just dig up the pipe and do a re-laying job, but the situation there is somewhat complicated, according to Hughes, who oversees state road needs in Patrick County.
“It is pretty unusual,” Hughes said this week. “But the best we can tell, the slope continued to slide, and it all kind of performed as one unit,” which involved the pipe being elevated along with other fixtures in the ground.
“It just lifted up everything,” the resident engineer said of the dynamics involved.
Steel rods were installed to stabilize the slope in 2014, which were placed underneath the pipe — thus requiring the rods to be cut through in order for crews to be able to work around the pipe to remove it and do the re-laying.
The location of the damaged pipe and difficulties in correcting it have created uncertainty among Virginia Department of Transportation officials as to when Willis Gap Mountain Road will be reopened.
“At this point, we don’t know,” Hughes said of a timetable initially put at weeks and possibly a month.
“We’re working with GSI, who is the contractor that did the slope stabilization, and they’re going to work us up a plan to see how this needs to be handled,” she added. “We hope to hear from them this week.”
Lengthy detour in place
While Willis Gap Mountain Road remains closed, travelers are required to use a detour that is proving to be lengthy and otherwise inconvenient.
It requires motorists to use Boundary Road to reach Orchard Gap Road, then proceed along Orchard Gap until it intersects with Old Dominion Road in Carroll County.
Then, detour signs direct travelers to follow Old Dominion Road until it intersects with Orchard View Drive, bringing them back into Patrick County. Orchard View Drive then intersects with the other side of Willis Gap Mountain Road.
“I have had to rearrange my commute down Orchard Gap,” said Steve Baird, a resident of the Groundhog Mountain area who works in Mount Airy. Orchard Gap Road is much steeper and curvier, he said.
“It takes me a little longer to get to work,” Baird said. “I would say it takes 10 to 15 minutes longer, because you have to travel slow on that road for sure.”
The detour also has presented another problem for Baird, who said the steeper incline of Orchard Gap Road sometimes causes his car, an older model, to overheat as he is returning home.
Hughes, the resident engineer, said the Virginia Department of Transportation is aware of such situations and the public can be assured it is working hard to reopen Willis Gap Mountain Road.
“It’s an inconvenience to a lot of people and we certainly don’t want to close it any longer than we have to,” she said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.