WEARS VALLEY (WATE) -The 16 mile stretch of the Foothills Parkway known as the “Missing Link” is set to be completed in 2018.
The Foothills Parkway came about in the 1940s and the “Missing Link” section began in the 1960s.
According to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, $146 million has been invested in this section of the parkway since 1966. The project to complete the stretch will cost another $32 million. The bridges are expected to be completed in 2017, but the paving of the stretch isn’t expected to be completed until next year.
“There have been years and years of leaders who have come to get us to this point here,” said GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We are very excited to get to this portion finished. This is going to be a new way as we enter our second century of service that the new younger generation will get to see the park in a different way than many other generations have.”
The section will connect Walland and Wears Valley and give drivers scenic views that aren’t available by other routes.
“It’s the only way you can see the highest mountains in the eastern United States in this way,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander. “There will be millions of Americans who will come here to do that. They’ll enjoy east Tennessee, they’ll leave their money here and best of all we’ll have a chance to see it and enjoy it anytime we want to. “
The new route will allow drivers to drive above the city of Townsend instead of through it. Some city businesses are worried the city’s tourism will suffer.
“I think it’s going to slow it down a great deal,” said Hezzie Heldon, a woodcarver. “On Sundays especially, people want to go home quick as they can and they are going to take the quickest route. I think the GPS on their phones is going to show the quickest route and I think it’s going to hurt us, I really believe it will.”
Congressman Phil Roe says he thinks the completion of the missing link will do just the opposite.
“You’ll start getting off the beaten path and you’ll start finding your way into areas,” said Congressman Roe. “(People will think,) ‘Hey, I bet people have never been over to Townsend.’ Because of the increased traffic, I bet their business goes up. I do share their concerns, but I bet they’re going to be just fine in Townsend.”