We headed south on I-75 from Lexington, KY toward Knoxville, TN. The drive is easy and not too crowded until we near Knoxville where, as usual, city congestion ensues. In Knoxville we pickup I-40 eastbound through the Smokeys.
Shortly after we enter North Carolina we see that the westbound traffic has come to a slow crawl when traffic narrows to one lane. Around Valentine’s Day (2010) a rock slide closes westbound I-40 just east of the Tennessee/North Carolina line. I am told it took months and many millions to remove the rock and repair the roadway. Now crews are trying to stabilize the mountainside to reduce chances of another rock slide.
The traffic seemed to be backed up for 20 miles. The only alternatives are taking local mountain roads to Hot Springs, NC, and pick up I-40 westbound east of the slide. Or take I-26 north to I-81 south a significant detour. Many are caught off-guard by the traffic jam simply because they are unaware of the work until it is too late.
Everything is compacted in the Smokeys. The mountains are much smaller both in height and at the base. As the highway winds around them the curves are tighter. Speed limits are not suggestions. If they say 55 mph for trucks it is for a reason. Another difference is the exit ramps. You need to dive out of traffic and slow to 20 mph to make the curves without mishap. Entrance ramps are iffy sometimes they are really long and sometimes not. I guess it is all a matter of space.
Rest areas are compact not sprawling as the rest areas out west or to a lesser degree in the Midwest. Rest areas in the Smokeys are snugged-up between the highway and the mountain. The parking for semis and RVs is more like parallel parking, not the angled pull-through we are used to.
Traffic is generally heavier heading east. A plus is that most Interstates are at least 3 lanes in each direction.