Taming the twists on U.S. 321

The N.C. Department of Transportation is widening and making other improvements to U.S. 321 south of Blowing Rock, and hopes to finish the $64 million project in August. The highway is being widened from two to four lanes, and a number of dangerous S-curves are being straightened.

This huge cut, between Blackberry Road and Greene's Trading post, will straighten out the treacherous four lane S-curve that has thrilled drivers and terrified passengers on the road to Blowing Rock for years. Nearly 1 million cubic yards of mountainside had to be moved to make way for this section, one third of the total material moved for the entire 6.5-mile project.

The widening – from Curvy Mountain Road to Blackberry Road – started in spring 2005. It has already taken more than three years because of the difficulty of blasting through rock. Lee Hammer, an N.C. DOT assistant resident engineer, said the department has already removed 3 million cubic yards of rock.

Hammer said the terrain is a challenge. “We can't blast when there is traffic, because when we blast it fills up the road.” The contractor blasts for a few hours a week when the road is closed.

Steve Harrison