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A 50-year-long construction project on the Foothills Parkway is finally nearing completion! Located on the edge of the Smoky Mountains, the Foothills Parkway provides some of the most breathtaking views in the nation. Unfortunately, the Parkway has always been missing a crucial 1.5-mile section. Known as the “missing link”, this piece of the Foothills Parkway has proven infuriatingly difficult to bridge and has resulted in 16 miles of the Parkway remaining unfinished.
After years of waiting, the “missing link” is missing no more! The National Park Service recently announced the final phase of construction on the 16-mile stretch of the Foothills Parkway between Walland, TN and Wears Valley, TN. Once this unfinished section of the Parkway is paved, motorists will be able to enjoy a gorgeous 33-mile drive from Chilhowee Lake to Sevier County. The construction is expected to be finished by the winter of 2018-19.
The Prettiest Drive in America
At an event celebrating the progress made on the Foothills Parkway, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said that the 33-mile section of the highway will be “the prettiest drive in America”. Alexander grew up miles away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has championed the construction work on the Parkway.
According to Senator Alexander, the Foothills Parkway will be “the only way you can see the highest part of the mountains in the eastern United States in this way”. Alexander expects that this one-of-a-kind highway will draw millions of visitors to the Smokies.
You can watch interviews with Senator Alexander, Congressman Phil Roe, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash about the Foothills Parkway in the video below:
The Troubled History of the Foothills Parkway
The Foothills Parkway is the oldest unfinished highway project in the state of Tennessee. Approved by Congress in 1944, the Parkway was envisioned as a 72-mile route from Chilhowee Lake to Cosby. However, the highway has fallen quite a few miles short of its original ambitions, as detailed in this report from WBIR.
In the late 1960s, a few portions of the Foothills Parkway were completed: a 17-mile section between US 129 and Walland, and on the eastern end, a 5.5-mile section connecting Cosby with Interstate 40.
Despite these early successes, the construction of the 16-mile stretch between Walland and Wears Valley was plagued with problems. A 1.5-mile section in the middle of this segment, the future “missing link”, featured rugged terrain that was extremely difficult to build upon. Construction was also complicated by the discovery of minerals in the soil that could cause damage to the environment. 20 years of work on this section of the Parkway seemed all for naught when construction crews took a long hiatus beginning in 1989.
After a few false starts, the Foothills Parkway project received a shot in the arm when federal stimulus money become available in 2009. New technological advances have allowed the National Park Service crews to fill in the “missing link” by building a bridge that “floats” around the edge of the mountain rather than plowing through the foothills.
An Unfinished Masterpiece
Even with the new 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway debuting in the coming years, the highway will still remain an unfinished masterpiece, at least for now. Original plans for the Parkway still call for a 33-mile section between Wears Valley and Cosby. Construction on this segment of the Parkway was never started and does not currently have funding. So, if anyone reading this article happens to have $400 million dollars burning a hole in their pocket, don’t hesitate to contact us!
While the new section of the Foothills Parkway won’t open for a little while, there are many other wonderful auto tours you can enjoy in the Smoky Mountains. Here are 7 country roads and scenic drives for your next vacation!