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SMOKIES’ “MISSING LINK” IS NEARING COMPLETION

foothillsparkwayExcerpted from an article by Erik Schelzig for the Associated Press.

“Walland, Tennesee – Efforts to extend a serpentine ridge-top road with soaring views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been thwarted for decades as engineers have grappled with how to complete a 1.6-mile stretch known as the missing link.  A $35 million commitment this summer by the federal government, the National Park Service and the state of Tennessee means the 10-bridge stretch can finally be completed, thrilling supporters who say it will open up one of the most scenic areas of the Foothills Parkway – but concerning those who say the project has gotten too expensive and poses a threat to the environment.  Sen. Lamar Alexander, former two-term Governor of Tennessee says that visitors would be able to take what he calls one of the most picturesque drives in our country with a view of the most-visited national park in America.

The new segment is scheduled to open within two years.  Work was halted in 1989 after retaining walls failed and contractors exposed pyrite, a mineral better known as “fool’s gold”, which forms sulfuric acid when it comes into contact with rain.  The toxic brew dissolves metals in bedrock and can wash into streams and rivers, choking off plants and wildlife and coating streambeds with iron hydroxide, tinting water yellow, red or orange.  Along with the engineering and environmental problems, escalating costs kept the missing link on the back burner until the late 2000s, when the federal government agreed to pay for the longest part of it – an  800-ft, S-shaped bridge designed to disturb as little earth as possible and costing $25 million – the money being provided through the 2009 Recovery Act, the federal response to the Great Recession.

Even after the bridges are built, half of the proposed 72-mile long Foothills Parkway will remain unfinished.  Land has been acquired, but no work has yet been done.

The Foothills Parkway was approved by Congress in 1944 as a companion  to other National Parkway routes such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and Natchez Trace…developed as part of the New Deal to help bring the economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930’s…”

SOURCE:  Erik Schelzig/Associated Press/Asheville Citizen-Times

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