Posted on November 9, 2018
“If you want the best view of the highest mountains in the eastern United States, you’ll drive the Foothills Parkway. The scene is so magnificent that it surprises even those of us who have grown up admiring the Smokies.” -- Lamar Alexander
WEARS VALLEY, Tenn., ?November 9, 2018 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said that the newly opened 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway adjacent to the ?Great Smoky Mountains National Park “is now one of the prettiest drives in America.”
At a groundbreaking ceremony Alexander said, “If you want the best view of the highest mountains in the eastern United States, you’ll drive the Foothills Parkway. The scene is so magnificent that it surprises even those of us who have grown up admiring the Smokies. It has taken nearly 75 years to complete this section of the parkway, but it is so picturesque that it is worth the 75-year wait.”
The new section will open 16 miles of parkway between Walland and Wears Valley. With completion of this new section, the parkway now extends 33 miles between Chilhowee and Wears Valley.
Alexander continued, “The parkway has been a priority of mine both as governor and as a U.S. senator. Thanks to decades of work by the National Park Service, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Department of Transportation, and the state of Tennessee, this beautiful new section of the Foothills Parkway will give millions who visit Tennessee every year an additional reason to enjoy our great outdoors.
“The story of the Foothills Parkway began nearly 75 years ago – only a few years after the ?Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created in 1934 – when Tennesseans petitioned the National Park Service and Congress to build a new parkway outside the Smokies to help with traffic and offer visitors scenic views of the mountains. Congress authorized the new parkway in 1944, but prohibited the use of federal funds to purchase the right-of-way. The state of Tennessee began acquiring land for the right-of-way for the new parkway in 1947 and continued until 1979. All of the right of way was donated to the federal government, and construction of the parkway began in 1960. According to the National Park Service, approximately $146 million has been invested in this uncompleted 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway since 1966. And additional money was still needed to complete the project.”
The Foothills Parkway was a priority for Alexander when he was governor in the 1980’s and the state Department of Transportation took the lead on a section of the parkway between Carrs Creek and Wears Valley. As a U.S. senator, he included $17.5 million for the parkway construction in the 2005 federal highway bill. Since then, he worked with his colleagues in Congress to help provide the funding necessary to complete the “missing link” – a 1.65 mile segment of the new 16-mile section comprised of nine bridges – and open this section of the parkway to the public. In 2016, the Tennessee Department of Transportation submitted a grant application for federal funds to complete this 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway.
Alexander urged the Department to approve the $10 million TIGER grant request, which it did on July 26, 2016. The state of Tennessee committed an additional $15 million in funding to complete the project. The National Park Service Federal Lands Transportation Program provided the remaining funding necessary to finish the 16 miles. Alexander attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the final project to complete the “missing link” in 2017.