By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Tennessee expects to reopen sooner-than-expected a one-mile section of westbound Interstate 40 closed Tuesday by a rockslide that has forced a 53-mile detour, transportation officials said on Thursday.
Transportation officials expected the stretch of road that connects Asheville, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee, to be closed for two full weeks while they removed debris and made sure that the rock walls were stable.
Repair crews and equipment were in place and ready to work under an emergency contract expected to be signed Thursday, allowing state officials to move up the planned reopening to 6 a.m. Monday local time, transportation spokesman Mark Nagi said.
"Everyone is working really quickly to get the roadway open sooner rather than later," Nagi said.
The timing could be changed if complications arise in the cleanup and shoring up of the rock walls, but the goal is to have at least one lane opened by Monday morning, he said.
A rockslide in the same area caused the closure of eastbound lanes for about six months in 2009. The largest rock that fell in the latest slide was 40 feet long, 40 feet high, 15 feet thick and weighed 1,500 tons, Nagi said.
Nagi said unusually warm weather this winter with repeated freezing and thawing may have put more strain on the rock walls. Some of the rocks were massive, but few of them fell on the actual roadway, said Nagi.
(Editing by David Bailey)