Although the United States Congress authorized the creation of the Foothills Parkway far back in 1944, it has remained incomplete for more than 50 years. Yet, a giant step forward has been made with the completion and opening of the 16-mile stretch running between Wears Valley, TN and Walland, TN, in November of 2018.
Though it is unclear if the original plans for a 72-mile stretch of highway will be complete, the segments that are finished can be accurately said to do as was intended, and “provide magnificent views into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a road corridor that was outside the Park.”
The only incomplete of the seven Congressionally Mandated Parkways created at that time, it is intended to run from Cosby, TN to Chilhowee, TN. Though construction has been stop and go for years, and sees the Parkway divided into eight sections (known as 8A and 8H), it has been the 1.5 mile section known as the “missing link” that has been keeping the project from completion.
Obstacles and Challenges
For many years, travelers could drive eastern end’s 5.5-mile portion from Interstate 40 to Cosby. Additionally, many have traversed the 17-mile stretch in Blount County that runs from U.S. 129 to Walland.
However, the 16 mile stretch recently completed proved a real difficulty. According to a report from WBIR, “Crews spent a couple of decades working on a 16-mile segment from Walland to Wears Valley and nearly finished it. But right in the middle, the construction hit rugged peaks and valleys too tough to overcome. The walls they built crumbled and the soil was filled with minerals that caused environmental damage.” By the late 1980s, crews stopped work and a 1.65 mile gap – the missing link mentioned above – remained.
Around 2009, work began again and brand-new bridge building technologies were put to use in solving the challenges posed by the missing link. According to that report, this tech has allowed the gap to be closed through “several bridges that essentially float along the edge of the mountain and minimize the number of cuts that plow through the mountain.”
Using technologies similar to the Linn Cove Viaduct in North Carolina, they are actually cantilevered bridges that preserved the surrounding landscape and offered only a small amount of interference or environmental impact. A real bonus is that they also emphasize the scenery and give a sense of being out in the wilderness, above the treetops and flying above it all!
With minimal impact and unimpeded views, the solution could not have been more ideally designed. Expected to become one of the prettiest drives in the country, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said that the Foothills Parkway will be the “only way you can see the highest part of the mountains in the eastern United States” from such a viewpoint. So, when visiting Blount County, be sure you make a point to take a scenic drive along the newly-completed portion of the stunning Foothills Parkway.
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