Work was scheduled to commence today on construction of the "missing link" along the Foothills Parkway in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The nearly $25 million project will add an 800-foot-long bridge soaring across the park's landscape to connect the eastern end of the unfinished Wears Valley stretch of parkway to the Walland segment of the parkway, park officials said. When completed in November 2011, the bridge is expected to be a "graceful, elevated roadway that forms a serpentine curve and will be supported by four piers up to 100 feet above the ground as it carries the road across two ravines on the south slope of Chilhowee Mountain," they said. "It is the longest single bridge needed to complete the 'missing link.'"
“Many people are familiar with the iconic Linn Cove Viaduct that carries the Blue Ridge Parkway around Grandfather Mountain,” said Great Smoky Superintendent Dale A. Ditmanson. “This new bridge is very nearly as long as that structure and likely to become just as note-worthy.”
The national park and the Federal Highway Administration are also working to finalize a contract to continue construction on the western, or Walland, end of the “missing link” working eastward from bridge 8 towards Wears Valley. They expect that work to begin in the fall of 2010.
“The first construction on the Walland to Wears Valley segment of the Foothills Parkway began in the late 1960s, and has progressed sporadically since that time," Superintendent Ditmanson said. "We have set a goal to get that segment completed in time for the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016 and are optimistic that that can be done, so that visitors can enjoy the unparalleled vistas that this segment will provide.”
Currently, the partially-completed sections of the parkway extending nine miles east from Walland, and four miles west from Wears Valley, are open for recreational use by hikers, cyclists and equestrians. Park officials plan to close the east end to all public use in mid-March when major construction begins. In the meantime, visitors using this section should be mindful that the contractor will be traveling this section in motor vehicles.
The $24.7 million contract for the "missing link" bridge was awarded to Bell & Associates Highway Construction of Brentwood, Tennessee, which will design and construct the bridge. The contract was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.