Bridge constructions crews will soon be sharing the road with hikers on the eastern portion of the Foothills Parkway.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service on Thursday announced that the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division had awarded a $24.7 million contract for the next phase of the Foothills Parkway.
Bell and Associations Highway Construction of Brentwood, Tenn., will design and build the section of the uncompleted Foothills Parkway.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson compared the bridge to iconic Linn Cove Viaduct that carries the Blue Ridge Parkway around Grandfather Mountain.
“This new bridge is very nearly as long as that structure and likely to become just as note-worthy,” Ditmanson said.
The funds for the project come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will pay to design and construct the 800-foot-long Bridge Number 2 on the eastern end of the unfinished parkway, the section known as the “Missing Link.”
When completed, Bridge Number 2 will be an elevated roadway that forms a serpentine curve and will be supported by four piers up to 100 feet above the ground. It will support the road across two ravines on the south slope of Chilhowee Mountain. It is the longest single bridge needed to complete the “missing link.”
Park spokesman Bob Miller said the contractor got a Notice to Proceed effective Jan. 15, which authorizes them to go forward with a more detailed design of the bridge and to come onto the site and start doing surveying. They also will begin mobilizing logistics like an office trailer on the site, he said.
“We don’t expect to see any real construction until about March of this year,” he said. It is scheduled for completion in November, 2011.
The 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,” 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 travelling this section in motor vehicles.
The original plan for Foothills Parkway called for eight sections:
• Section 8A - connecting I-40 and Cosby via the crest of Green Mountain. This section was completed in the late 1960s. 5.6 miles (9.0 km).
• Section 8B - connecting Cosby to Pittman Center via the crest of Webb Mountain. 14.1 miles (22.7 km).
• Section 8C - connecting Pittman Center to U.S. Route 441 via the low hills south of the Middle Creek area. 9.6 miles (15.4 km).
• Section 8D - connecting US-441 to Wears Valley via the northern flank of Cove Mountain. 9.8 miles (15.8 km).
• Section 8E - connecting Wears Valley to Carr Creek (at the base of Bates Mountain). 9.7 miles (15.6 km). An unfinished 1.6-mile (2.6 km) stretch of this section is known as “The Missing Link.”
• Section 8F - connecting Carr Creek to Walland via the crest of Bates Mountain. Most of this section has been completed, but is not currently open to vehicular traffic. 6.1 miles (9.8 km).
• Section 8G - connecting Walland to Look Rock via the south flank of Chilhowee Mountain. 10.1 miles (16.3 km). This section was completed and opened to traffic in 1966.
• Section 8H - connecting Look Rock to Chilhowee Lake. 6.9 miles (11.1 km). This section was completed and opened to traffic in 1966.