Alexander urges end to 'Road to Nowhere'

Posted on December 25, 2006

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has a suggestion for the National Park Service regarding the proposed North Shore Road in Swain County, N.C. Make sure the so-called "Road to Nowhere" disappears forever. "I've written to the new director of the National Park Service and suggested to her a good Christmas present to the people of North Carolina and East Tennessee would be to put an end to the 'Road to Nowhere,' " the Tennessee Republican said Sunday in a phone interview. "There are two reasons," he said. "One, it's a stupendous waste of money. Two, it's an environmental disaster." The North Shore Road was first proposed in 1943 as a way to replace a highway flooded by the Tennessee Valley Authority's creation of Fontana Lake. About seven miles was completed by 1970, but environmental and funding concerns stalled the project. The proposed 34-mile extension would roughly parallel the northern shore of the lake. Some officials, however, favor abandoning the project and paying Swain County a $52 million settlement from federal coffers. "It would cost at least $600 million to finish, and usually these road projects double in cost," Alexander said. "That's 75 times the annual road budget of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "It would be an environmental disaster because it would build this unnecessary road through one of the largest wilderness areas remaining in the Eastern United States," he said. The Park Service hasn't committed to building the road or any of the proposed alternatives, said Park Service spokeswoman Nancy Gray. The agency plans to draft an environmental impact statement and will review studies and public comments before deciding how to proceed, she said. "That's an agency decision that's not been made at this time," she said. "The National Park Service has gone though a lengthy environmental impact study over the past couple of years, which is required before the start of building such a road, and it's now time for a decision," Alexander said. "This situation has continued since the end of World War II," he added. "It's unfair to the people of Swain County, North Carolina, who are owed an obligation by the federal government."