Final construction to begin on Foothills Parkway

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced Thursday the final paving will start soon on the Foothills Parkway after planning it for half a century.

Photo courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Foothills Parkway has been on the books for 75 years as a link between Chilhowee and I-40 in Cocke County, but only a small portion has opened.

As of April 2017, a 16-mile stretch to complete the road to Wears Valley is under construction. On Thursday, local, state and federal leaders gathered to celebrate the beginning of the end.

"It's the only way you can see the highest part of the mountains in the eastern United States in this way," said Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). "There will be millions of Americans who come here to do that, they'll enjoy East Tennessee, they'll leave their money here. and best of all, we'll be able to see it anytime we want to."

So far, $146,000,000 has been spent on building the road, but another $32,000,000 was needed for final paving and safety work. Now, that work will finally happen.

"It's going to be a new way, again, as we enter our second century of service, that the younger people will be able to see the park in another way that many other generations haven't. So I'm glad to be a part of this era when we allowed this to happen," said Superintendent Cassius Cash of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"Of course, it has been a federal-state project together, but this is a wonderful project, and I can barely wait to drive across it in 18 months or so," said Congressman Phil Roe (R-Tenn. 1st District).

Park officials said it will take another year and a half or so for construction to continue along the road. Completion is expected in 2018.