Editorial: It's great having our road through the Smokies reopened ahead of schedule
Visitation to the national park was down nearly 25 percent in March, and one major reason was that you couldn’t drive through the Smokies on Newfound Gap Road (Highway 441). The January landslide that closed the road and washed away around 200 feet of the highway affected traffic flow and visitation.
So it was a glorious day on Monday when park officials announced the road has reopened a month ahead of schedule. At 10 a.m. on April 15, under sunny skies and even sunnier dispositions, the park officially opened the road to through traffic between Cherokee and Gatlinburg.
The opening of the road came 30 days ahead of the scheduled completion date of May 15. The National Park Service, Phillips & Jordan, Inc. (P&J), APAC Harrison Division and all subcontractors deserve much praise for working so well together and so expeditiously to finish the project ahead of time and reopen a major highway for visitors.
The primary repair contract was awarded to P&J for the submitted bid of $3.9 million. The contract included a monetary incentive of $18,000 per day for each day of completion prior to May 15, up to a maximum of $504,000 offered jointly by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian (EBCI) and the National Park Service. The company deserves this bonus.
“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 Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.
With the spring tourist season under way, it was important to see Newfound Gap Road reopened as quickly as possible. It has been. It wasn’t easy, either. Imagine repairing a 200-foot gap in a road that is already challenging to begin with. But they did it. And this tourist community is grateful.