Route 33 reopens at Swift Run Gap after closure due to mudslides

Published: May. 31, 2018 at 7:03 AM EDT
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UPDATE (June 1):

A highly traveled roadway from Rockingham County into Greene County – one of relatively few ways to get over the mountains from the Shenandoah Valley into central Virginia – has been reopened after it was closed for about a day and a half following five mudslides triggered by heavy rain in Swift Run Gap early Thursday morning.

Spotswood Trail (Route 33) was shut down in both directions at the foot of the mountain on each side, but, as of 6:40 p.m., the Virginia Department of Transporation (VDOT) announced that section of roadway was once again open to traffic.

The update came during a newly issued flood warning for that section of Virginia as more storms rolled through on Friday evening.

Torrential downpours brought as much rain to that area from Wednesday into Thursday as Harrisonburg received in the entire month of May.

Under that rainfall, slopes gave way in five different places, unleashing mud and debris across the highway.

Crews with VDOT and surrounding jurisdictions worked throughout the day Thursday to clear all debris and restore roadside ditches to route any remaining water off of the roadway.

A geotechnical engineer is on scene to help stabilize the slopes. Work was ended early Thursday evening due to heavy rain passing through the area that caused concerns for more mudslides.

At 8 a.m., teams returned to the scene continue cleanup operations. The department originally planned to reopen the roadway by the early afternoon, but the process faced delays.

As of 5:10 p.m., they estimated a re-opening time of 6 p.m. However, that estimate came out as slow-moving storms approached Harrisonburg and appeared to be headed that direction again.

By 6:25 p.m., the highway remained closed and VDOT officials told WHSV crews had succeeded in removing all the debris and were in the final stage of cleanup, sweeping the road, despite incoming storms.

Overnight, other VDOT crews worked in Greene and Rockingham counties to make repairs, prioritizing roads and bridges that provide the only access to residents on the far side of the damaged structure.

Throughout Friday, VDOT will assess all accessible roads and bridges in areas affected by flooding.


Heavy rain Wednesday night caused a series of mudslides along the mountain range dividing Rockingham and Greene counties, covering parts of Spotswood Trail (Route 33) with inches of mud.

The highly-used highway was shut down near Swift Run early Thursday morning and will remain closed through at least Friday morning, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation, because slopes gave way in five separate locations, pushing mud and debris across the road.

Eastbound lanes are blocked at the western foot of the mountain at Route 628, or Beldor Road.

Westbound lanes are blocked on the other side of the mountain at mile marker 46.

Drivers will need to find alternate routes over the mountain, either to the south on on Interstate 64 or to the north.

VDOT is working to remove the mud, repair damage to the road, and restore roadside ditches to route water off of the roadway. In several places, water continues to flow down where the slopes gave way, heightening concerns about more mudslides in the near future.

That work will last until at least Friday morning.

VDOT also reminds drivers never to drive through water flowing on a roadway.

Six inches of water is enough to knock a person off their feet, while 12 inches will sweep a car off the road.

Crews are on the scene from a number of surrounding jurisdictions, working with a geotechnical engineer from VDOT.

Greene County saw significant damage from the storm, and the highest rainfall from the storm, which dropped seven to nine inches of rain overnight, fell near the Blue Ridge Mountains.

That's nearly equivalent to Harrisonburg's total rainfall for all of May.

Numerous secondary roads are also closed in Greene, Madison, Albemarle, and parts of Augusta counties after the series of storms overnight.

VDOT crews are prioritizing roads and bridges that provide the only access to residents on the far side of the damaged structures.

Greene County declared a local emergency and has opened an Emergency Shelter located at the Ruckersville Elementary School at 105 Progress Place, Ruckersville, VA 22968.

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority is monitoring local reservoirs and no risk to these dams has been identified.

Albemarle County declared a local emergency at 11:45 P.M. on Wednesday night due to major flooding.

The City of Charlottesville is providing public safety and communications support at the Regional Emergency Operations Center.