U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-TN, said a National Park Service announcement today ends efforts to build a controversial $600 million “Road to Nowhere” through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a dispute dating back to more than 50 years.
The National Park Service today issued a final Environmental Impact Statement on the unfinished road project – begun in the 1940s in the Swain County, NC area of the Park – that will call for a cash settlement to the county instead of the road. The National Park Service expects a 30-day public comment period to follow.
“Today’s decision ends this expensive, unnecessary road through some of the nation’s most pristine wilderness,” said Alexander, who testified before Congress against the road to Congress in 1985 while governor of Tennessee. “This solution is the right way to end this decades-long dispute for the people of Swain County. It makes good financial sense for the taxpayers and it is the right thing to do for those who love the Great Smoky Mountains.”
Last March, Alexander and 16 other congressional lawmakers sent a letter to Interior Department Secretary Dick Kempthorne urging him to stop work on the road and provide a cash settlement. The road would have cost 75 times the annual roads budget of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Alexander said.
Alexander said the next step would be to give Swain County the nearly $6 million left over from the ongoing Environmental Impact Study on the project. The project was initiated to replace a state highway flooded by construction of Fontana Dam in the late 1940s.
Earlier this year the full Senate passed the Transportation Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008, which included Alexander amendment to use as a down payment towards this cash settlement any remaining funds appropriated for the road. Senator Elizabeth Dole, R-NC, U.S. Representative Heath Shuler, D-NC, and other members of the Tennessee and North Carolina congressional delegations also have joined Alexander in the fight to end the road.
The National Park Service selected this alternative solution after evaluating the nearly 76,000 public comments on the road’s impact.