GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) -- The major route over the Smoky Mountains is open to traffic, three months after a landslide took out a section of it.
The National Park Service said Monday that U.S. 441 was reopened at 10 a.m., allowing travel between Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Cherokee, N.C.
On Jan. 13, a 200-foot-long section of the two-lane highway slid the length of a football field down a slope on the North Carolina side of the park.
The opening came a month ahead of schedule.
"We recognize the economic importance of the road to our neighboring communities and are grateful that our partners at Federal Highways Administration and were able to respond efficiently to our need and work with the contractors to make the necessary repairs in less than 90 days," said Mokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.
Phillips & Jordan, Inc., was awarded a nearly $4 million contract. It had incentives of $8,000 per day for early completion.
The final design includes pipes to allow for the drainage of subsurface water flow along with side drainage leading to a culvert at the end of the slope.
Also on Monday, the park released visitation figures and they are down sharply.
The number of people coming into the 500,000-acre park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border in March was 465,594 -- down 23.8 percent from the same month in 2012.
For 2013 to date, visits are off 47.4 percent from the park's five-year visitation average for the lowest first-quarter figure in over five years. The January through March total was 983,664 visitors which, is 250,334 less than in 2012,
Park officials said the decrease was likely due to the closure of U.S. 441 between Newfound Gap and Smokemont. They expect visits to increase, now that the road is again open and spring has arrived.
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