Editorial: Feds move quickly on repairing road through Smokies
The federal government is not known for moving at anything above glacier speed. Except when it comes to fixing roads. When interstate highways are closed or bridges damaged, government springs into action and makes repairs on a pretty hasty schedule.
The record holds true for the repairs to U.S. 441 through the Smokies. The road known as Newfound Gap has been shut to through-traffic since a landslide on Jan. 16. That’s a major artery for motorists, and not just those headed to and from the Cherokee casino. Winter snow always brings out motorists wanting to drive up and over the mountain to see it. Newfound Gap Road provides access to trails and overlooks. Gatlinburg depends on the road to bring tourists to and from the Gateway to the Smokies.
So when the landslide closed the road, it was of deep concern to many people. Government officials have sprung to life. A contract has been awarded for the first phase of work: to develop an access road to the slide area, remove debris and stabilize the slope above the work area. This is estimated to cost around $200,000 and will prepare the site for the second phase of work which will involve a reconstruction of the roadway.
This first phase began on Monday and is expected to be completed in a few weeks. Then comes the hard part: restoring the road so it’s passable. That’s expected to cost the feds $3 million to $7 million and keep the road closed maybe into June. That means spring and early summer are affected, an endurance test for the merchants of Gatlinburg and other areas of Sevier County that depend upon tourism.
Of course there are other ways to reach Gatlinburg and the rest of the county. Those alternate routes as well as a marketing drive to alert potential visitors are at the heart of a targeted marketing push by the city. It will be money and effort well spent. People will find a way to get to you if they want to get to you, and visitors to our community want to be here. There is so much to do and see. If it means a detour or a little longer route, so be it.
Many thanks to National Park Service officials for their efforts to get the road fixed as quickly as possible.