'Missing Link' complete on Foothills Parkway in GSMNP

WEARS VALLEY, Tenn. (WATE) - After five decades of construction work, crews have finally bridged the gap in the Foothills Parkway, known as the "Missing Link."

It took seven years of work to build five bridges on the 1.65 mile segment left uncompleted for decades. Paving the road is the only step left in the project, expected to be finished by December 2018,

Greak Smoky Mountains National Park officials say work on the 16 mile streth of roadway has been a long process, but progress can be seen.

"We are one step closer to completion," said Clayton Jordan, GSMNP Acting Superintendent.

Back in the late 1960s, crews finished several sections of the parkway. Erosion and funding caused issues with the project's timeline.

"From 1970 to today, we've had a number of starts and stops," said Alan Sumeriski, GSMNP Acting Deputy Superintendent.

Melisa Ridenour, the Division Director of Eastern Federal Lands adds, "The missing link was you couldn't get from point A to point B. You were stuck. You couldn't actually make use of this wonderful roadway that we have."

Bridges were needed to stabilize the roadway and park officials wanted the project to have a minimal impact on the environment.

"We're real respectful of the terrain and topography. We've not done a lot of significant cut and fill activity. Wildlife are able to migrate underneath these bridges," said Sumeriski.

Lane Construction Company of Charlotte, North Carolina completed the seven-year construction process to build five bridges at a cost of $48.5 million. They utilized 250 construction workers to make the project possible. The completion of the bridges marks the first time that vehicles can travel the entire 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway extending from Walland to Wears Valley, TN.

By this time next year, visitors will have the opportunity to view the western parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"You will get to see the views, they are wonderful, they are spectacular," said Ridenour.

The goal is to also ease congestion on other roadways in Blount and Sevier counties.

Jordan adds, "Some of the heavily traveled congested highway corridors into the area need some relief."

In total, there are nine bridges that connect the roadways. Since 1966, $178 million has been invested in this 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway spanning parts of Blount and Sevier Counties. The stretch will also include several pullouts and viewing areas.

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