Knoxville News Sentinel - Richard Powelson
WASHINGTON - Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander is working to pass a bill to provide $90 million a year for alternative transportation in traffic-congested, polluted national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains.
Under the bill, S. 1032, parks could apply for funding for clean-fuel buses, a rail system, pedestrian and bike paths or, if possible, waterway access.
Smokies park officials already are seeking public input and studying ways to reduce traffic congestion in the nation's most-visited park, especially at Cades Cove, and will release a final plan by summer 2004, park spokesman Bob Miller said. He said the park could benefit from the Senate bill, depending on the scope of the final plan. Alexander, R-Tenn., is not endorsing one traffic solution for the Smokies while the park is studying the issue, his spokeswoman, Alexia Poe, said. But she said he wants to get federal funding available for parks with plans, and will work to gain more Republican support.
Among 14 senators now promoting the bill, Alexander is the only Republican. Various environmental and transportation groups also support it, including the National Parks Conservation Association.
"It's traffic which keeps people from visiting (some) parks," Poe said, and adds to air pollution. "This is to encourage the parks and areas surrounding the parks to come up with innovative ways to cut back on pollution and to cut back on traffic and to make it an overall better experience for those visiting the park as well as lessening the toll on the park itself."
Miller said various traffic alternatives remain under discussion, including giving free, timed tickets to visitors to regulate traffic flow. The same system has been used for White House tours and art exhibits in Washington to prevent overcrowding.
Other alternatives are clean-fuel shuttle buses, widening the one-lane road to allow passing or building more paved pull-off areas for visitors wanting to stop to linger by wildlife or scenery.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, the leading Democrat backing the bill, said: "We can turn paradise into a parking lot or we can invest in alternative transportation solutions before our national parks are damaged beyond repair."