FOOTHILLS PARKWAY – NEXT STEPS
BackgroundFor planning purposes, the Foothills Parkway was divided into eight sections referred to as 8A through 8H. Five sections traversing 38.6 miles of the parkway have been completed, including 8A between I-40 and Cosby, and 8E to 8H between Wears Valley and Chilhowee. While these parkway sections were being constructed, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) were also planning the next phases of work for the final 33.5 miles of sections 8B, 8C, and 8D between Cosby and Wears Valley. This planning effort resulted in various documents including the 1994 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Foothills Parkway Section 8D, the 1999 Environmental Report for Section 8B, the 2002 Foothills Parkway Analysis Report, and other reports/studies. Preliminary efforts on an EIS for Section 8B commenced in 2006, and were suspended in 2007 to focus funding and efforts on Sections 8E and 8F.
The 2002 Foothills Parkway Analysis Report evaluated Sections 8B, 8C, and 8D. The study was commissioned for "the specific purpose of providing an in-depth assessment of the Foothills Parkway corridor in context with the Congressional mandate, the mission of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the regional transportation network and gateway communities in Blount, Cocke and Sevier counties". The study considered viewsheds, traffic volumes, visitor experience, environmental impact, and construction. The report concluded that completing the parkway would best achieve the goals associated with the Congressional mandate and previous Park plans, providing views of the Park, an enhanced visitor experience, improved connections to regional roadways, and traffic reductions on roadways within and outside the Park. Public input documented during the study process supported completion of the Foothills Parkway.
Building upon prior planning efforts and environmental studies for the Foothills Parkway, the NPS and FHWA intend to reinitiate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning process for the 9.8-mile Section 8D. Planning efforts will involve development of a new EIS for Section 8D incorporating information from the 1994 Draft EIS The NPS will work with FHWA and other federal, state, and local government partners to review input and suggestions provided by the public throughout the NEPA planning process.
The funding required to complete the EIS planning process for the Foothills Parkway Sections 8B, 8C, and 8D in accordance with NEPA guidelines is estimated at $20 million. Once NEPA compliance is complete, Section 8D is the next logical section of the Foothills Parkway to be constructed, as it will connect Section 8E in Wears Valley to the Gatlinburg Spur in Pigeon Forge (US 441). This will create a new connection to the northern boundary of the Park. The 2002 Foothills Parkway Analysis Report indicated that construction of Section 8D would have a positive effect on the regional transportation network and that it would reduce traffic volumes on the Little River Gorge Road in the Park. It also stated that, in combination with Sections 8E and 8F, Section 8D will provide a very positive impact on the gateway areas of Sevier and Blount counties.