Senator Lamar Alexander on Thursday said at the groundbreaking ceremony for the final project to complete the "missing link" of the Foothills Parkway, "if you want to see the Smokies, you’ll drive the Foothills Parkway because it’s the only road that gives you such a spectacular view of the highest mountains in the eastern United States. The missing link is so picturesque it is worth the 75-year wait."
The "missing link" is a 1.65 mile section comprised of nine bridges that will complete 16 miles of parkway between Walland and Wears Valley adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The senator said, “The story of the Foothills Parkway began nearly 75 years ago– only a few years after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created in 1934 -- when Tennesseans petitioned the National Park Service and Congress to build a new parkway outside the Smokies to help with traffic and offer visitors scenic views of the mountains.
Congress authorized the new parkway in 1944, but prohibited the use of federal funds to purchase the right-of-way. The state of Tennessee began acquiring land for the right-of-way for the new parkway in 1947 and continued until 1979. All of the right of way was donated to the federal government, and construction of the parkway began in 1960. According to the National Park Service, approximately $146 million has been invested in this uncompleted 16 mile section of the Foothills Parkway since 1966. And additional money was still needed to complete the project."
The National Park Service, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration have worked diligently to secure funding to complete and open this additional 16 miles of the Foothills Parkway. Sen. Alexander said, “The Foothills Parkway has been a priority for me ever since I was elected to the Senate in 2002, and I’m glad we’re making progress.”
In April of last year, the Tennessee Department of Transportation submitted a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant application to fund the completion of this 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway. Alexander sent a letter to then U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in April 2016 urging the Department to approve the $10 million TIGER grant request. The U.S. Department of Transportation approved the grant on July 26, 2016. The state of Tennessee committed an additional $15 million in funding to complete the project. The National Park Service Federal Lands Transportation Program will provide the remaining funding necessary to finish the 16 miles.
Alexander made his remarks today at the groundbreaking ceremony for the final phase of construction to complete the “missing link” in the Foothills Parkway – marking the completion of the 16 miles of Parkway extending from Walland to Wears Valley, which is expected in 2018. The senator joined Congressman Phil Roe (R-Tn.), Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash, and members of the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration to celebrate this milestone.
Sen. Alexander said, “The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States, has a tremendous economic impact in East Tennessee. The completion of this 16-mile section -- extending from Walland to Wears Valley -- of the Foothills Parkway will bring tourists and jobs to East Tennessee. Congratulations to Governor Haslam, the National Park Service, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and other state and local officials for their hard work and vision in creating this great new addition.”
Sen. Alexander gave special praise to the late Dean Stone, former editor of the Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times. “No one was a stronger advocate for completing the parkway than Dean Stone, and no one would be more pleased to see the missing link finished than Dean."
The Foothills Parkway was originally planned to run 72 miles from Chilhowee Lake to I-40. The project was divided into eight sections, and currently, only three of the eight sections are completed, totaling 22.5 miles. Even after the new 16 miles covering two additional sections of the parkway are completed, there will still be another three sections covering 33.5 miles of the parkway from Wears Valley to Cosby that will remain unfinished. Of the seven congressionally-mandated parkways, the Foothills Parkway is the only one not yet completed.