Foothills Parkway bridge completed

Walland-Wears Valley section could open in 2016
Jun. 24, 2013 @ 06:06 PM

The most expensive piece of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley is now complete, although visitors won’t be able to drive on it for a few years.

The 800-foot, $25.7 million piece, Bridge 2, is part of a project to connect 16 miles of road between Walland and Wears Valley, but structural fill failures and erosion problems caused the project to be suspended in 1989, leaving an unfinished segment of 1.65 miles, known as the “missing link.”

The National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration developed a new design in 1992 to complete the missing link with bridges, walls and fills. To date, four bridges (Bridges 2, 8, 9 and 10) and two road segments have been completed for a total of $46.2 million. The remaining sections were combined under one contract and are expected to be complete by 2016.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the completion of Bridge 2 on Foothills Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson explained the significance of the project.

“Foothills Parkway is and will be a significant connection between a number of East Tennessee communities, two congressional districts and three counties,” Ditmanson said to a crowd of local officials, dignitaries and representatives at the Bridge 2 site.

Ditmanson said the parkway was designed to provide a scenic view of the national park while also relieving traffic congestion in the surrounding communities.

“The Foothills (Parkway) idea was conceived to provide that scenic view of the park while looking into the park from the outside,” Ditmanson said. “Thoughtful people realized that this idea of a road looking into the park would preserve the park itself.”

“It’s fulfilling to see a major piece of the parkway complete,” said Gordon Wissinger, park service regional director. “We say major not in terms of distance, but in terms of cost. It brings us a step closer to being able to provide the public a driving experience that I think will rival any in our other national parks.”

Construction for Bridge 2 began in 2009. It was funded by Title 23, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The remaining sections, Bridges 3-7, are being funded by Title 23, the Federal Lands Transportation Program and multiple Federal Highways Appropriations.

Total construction awarded to date is approximately $48.5 million. The park estimates that an additional $29 million will be required to fully complete the section between Walland to Wears Valley. The estimate includes paving and miscellaneous work.

The Foothills Parkway was originally authorized by Congress in 1944 as a scenic parkway. Construction began in 1956, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the park service.

Ditmanson hopes favorable conditions and adequate funds will allow for the missing link to be completed by 2016, which would coincide with the park service’s 100th anniversary.

“We would love that date,” Ditmanson said. “If all those things fall into place, we can make that happen.”

Of the 72-mile corridor spanning Blount, Sevier and Cocke counties, only three segments totaling 22.5 miles — about 30 percent — are completed and open to the public.

Foothills Parkway is the only parkway authorized by Congress that remains incomplete.

rhargett@themountainpress.com