U.S. Highway 64 through the Ocoee Gorge may reopen Wednesday afternoon, a couple of days earlier than the projected Friday deadline, highway and local officials say.
"They're working like ants out there," Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said Monday. "We still have to repave the roadbed, get the bit crane out of the area, put up guardrail and paint on some roadway marking."
Friday is the deadline, "But earlier would be even better," she said.
That was welcome news to Polk County Assessor of Property Randy Yates, who on Monday was looking on the Internet at TDOT's live camera to see if an early drive on the road might be possible.
"They're paving as we talk," he said. "If it opened just right now, we'd be tickled about it. We want it open now."
ROCK SLIDE WORK
* 2,000 Holes drilled for blasting away loose and unstable rock
* 11,000 Linear feet of rock bolts
* 26,000 Tons of rock removed from the first and largest slide site
* 14,000 Tons of rock removed from the second slide on Jan. 19
* 20,000 Tons of rock removed from a trouble spot known as the 15 mph curve.
Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation
Mr. Yates said the normal drive on U.S. 64 from Benton to Ducktown, Tenn., is 28 miles, but his trips across the county by detour to review properties while the road was closed covered 88 miles and took an hour and 45 minutes, one way.
Angie Arp, manager of Ocoee Rafting, also is excited about the road reopening this week -- early or not.
"I'm just delighted. It's been a long time coming. We've been out of business for four weeks (of this year's normal rafting season)," she said.
The last two weekends have been warm and pretty, and Ms. Arp estimated her business lost $5,000 to $10,000 while the road was closed.
"I am certain there will be a lot of relieved people," she said of the road's reopening.
Contractors have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week since March 8 to clear up the last of the rock slide that thundered onto U.S. 64 on Nov. 10.
Since workers began the effort, several more slide areas developed along the road, including a second major slide on Jan. 19.
Road workers also repaired the entire road and did some preventive work in hopes of stopping future slides onto the road in the narrow, steep gorge that is Polk County's major east-west link between Benton and Copperhill.
For five months travelers between those points had to take detours through Sweetwater, Tenn., or Elijay, Ga.
Mrs. Flynn said a celebration is planned Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Ocoee Whitewater Center.
James Talley, mayor of Ducktown, said he hopes a lot of people turn out for the reopening party.
"Believe me, we're excited," he said.
Ducktown's tax revenue is down 30 percent because travelers who normally stopped there to buy souvenirs or groceries on the way home were stopping somewhere else along the detours, he said.
"We're hoping everything will rebound now," Mr. Talley said.