LOWGAP — A sharp curve on a mountainous Surry County roadway which has been a deadly location for truckers and other motorists is in line for straightening by the state transportation department.
“It’s something that needed to be done a long time ago,” Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton said Thursday regarding a newly announced project to address the dangers of Snowbird Curve on N.C. 89 near Lowgap.
Although complete statistics were not immediately available on the number of lives lost at the curve, Shelton said Thursday he is aware of numerous accidents at that location during his 30-year career in emergency services.
“Oh my gosh, there’s probably been at least 100 incidents up there over the years — and there may be more than that,” the EMS official said.
The dangerous curve on N.C. 89 is near N.C. 18, between Lowgap and the Virginia state line.
Along with its sharpness, the steepness of the mountain roadway adds to the hazards along with the narrowness of the two-lane route, which is particularly problematic during inclement weather, Shelton said.
“It’s one of the most-dangerous areas we’ve had for travel,” he added of Snowbird Curve in comparison to other locations in Surry County.
“I’m real happy that the project is moving forward — we’ve had a lot of serious accidents there.”
Travel along the mountainous section of N.C. 89 will be made safer as the result of a $1.6 million contract awarded by the secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, which was announced Wednesday.
DLB Inc. of Hillsville, Va., the low bidder for the job, could begin the improvement project as early as next month, according to DOT officials.
A quarter-mile section will be realigned near the existing curve, allowing it to accommodate large truck traffic.
In referring to the high accident rate at the site, DOT officials say tractor-tractor drivers have been the segment most at risk when attempting to navigate the tight curve, especially those unfamiliar with the mountainous stretch.
Shelton said commercial truck traffic uses N.C. 89 in order to reach businesses in the Lowgap area. Yet some truckers have been known to travel on N.C. 89 simply to avoid scales on Interstate 77.
“It’s much too narrow for large trucks,” the EMS official said of the two-lane road’s present configuration.
Detour To Be Required
While work can begin at the curve as early as Oct. 1, it is not scheduled to be completed until Nov. 28, 2014.
The realignment won’t come painlessly, DOT officials warn. Vehicles will be reduced to one lane of travel while most of the work is done and the road also might be closed at times while blasting occurs.
While the project is under way, a temporary signal will be installed to allow two-way traffic to utilize one lane due to the southbound lane being closed during most of the construction. This is to take place between Oct. 1 of this year and Dec. 1, 2013.
The road also could be closed on Mondays or Wednesdays from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the blasting operations, according to the DOT.
When necessary, a 40-mile off-site detour route will be in place. To head north from Lowgap, motorists will travel south on N.C. 89 to Interstate 77-North into Virginia. They then will take Exit 14 onto U.S. 221/58 toward Galax, Va., then head south on Virginia 89 into North Carolina. Southbound traffic will reverse those directions, the DOT says.
Shelton said the construction does stand to pose some inconvenience to motorists for an extended period, “but when they’re finished, I’m sure it’s going to make a big difference.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.