The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road will be rehabilitated in the spring of 2010, Great Smoky Mountains National Park managers announced on Oct. 13.
Due to the limitations on work processes posed by the narrow, single lane historic road, the Park plans to close the road to all use from March 1 through May 21, 2010. The work is weather-sensitive so the actual closing period could be influenced by the amount of rainfall.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale
Ditmanson said, “We looked at a full range of options to get the work done without totally closing this popular road, but all would have involved sending traffic out of the Cove via the primitive, gravel Parson Branch Road onto U.S. 129 - a very long detour totally unsuited to carrying the 3-4,000 vehicles that enter the Cove each day. We also considered requiring nighttime work only, but due to the method of construction, ‘Full-depth Reclamation,’ it is not possible to drive on the road the day after the sub-base is rebuilt.”
The superintendent said the “Full-depth Reclamation” process involves using specialized equipment that essentially roto-tills the existing pavement, mixes it with the underlying materials to a depth of six inches, then incorporates water and Portland cement. The resulting mix must harden for 5-7 days before it can support loads or receive the final paving.
The work will be completed under a contract from the Federal Highway Administration at an estimated cost of $4 to 6 million.
“The construction method selected eliminates the time, pollution and cost of milling of the old pavement and trucking hundreds of loads of it back to the asphalt plant for reprocessing. Instead the pavement is recycled in place, so it’s a much more environmentally responsible way of getting the work done.” Ditmanson said.
To help minimize the closure period, the contract will offer
substantial financial incentives for completion ahead of schedule as well as imposing penalties for delays.
The road will remain a single lane, one-way byway, but the Park does plan to pave a number of informal pull-offs that are already in use but badly eroded. Managers hope that paving the pullouts will encourage drivers to pull over more when stopping to view wildlife, helping traffic to flow better as well as reducing erosion.
“I do want to make sure the public understands that, although the Loop Road will be closed, the rest of the activities that visitors come to the area for will still be available.” Ditmanson said, “The campground, picnic area, horseback riding stable and campground store will be operating as normal and any trails, except those accessed off the Loop Road, will also remain open. We will also work to make visitors aware of alternative destinations such as the Tremont or Elkmont areas that traditionally get light visitation, but have great scenic values as well as a variety of hiking opportunities.”
“To learn more about alternatives during the work period visitors can go to the Park’s website: www.nps.gov.grsm, under ‘Planning your Visit’ or stop at the Townsend Visitor Center on East Lamar Alexander Parkway.
The Townsend Visitor Center is operated jointly by the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Great Smoky Mountains Association, so the staff is well-acquainted with the area and the Center stocks all the same informational materials as the our Cades Cove Center,” Ditmanson said.