More than $33 million in federal money earmarked for Blount Foothills Parkway repairs

The portion of Foothills Parkway between Walland and Chilhowee Lake is slated to receive a more than $33 million Department of Interior (DOI) investment for restoration and safety repairs.

Of the $1.6 billion the DOI budgeted in 2021 to address 165 deferred maintenance projects, a 16-mile stretch of Blount Foothills Parkway has locked in funding that will address a variety of needs.

DOI project data documents explain the spending is meant to "accomplish full depth reclamation or a complete mill and overlay ... on this section of parkway."

Other goals include restoring and protecting high visitation and public-use facilities, improving Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, remediating facilities with poor facility condition index (FCI) scores, reducing deferred maintenance and addressing safety issues, documents state.

Generally, this could include changes and updates to road elements like parking areas, guardrails, pullouts, signs, pavement markings, drainage structures and ditches.

It also includes masonry and bridge parapet wall repair at Look Rock Overlook, one of the more popular roadside stops in Blount County’s portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"A full depth rehabilitation of the roadway will extend the life of the road 20-30 years and builds upon prior investments," DOI documents explain, adding those prior investments include a combined $35 million from the state and a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

What will happen if the work isn't done? Already the road surface has wear and tear that, if ignored, could lead to increased dangers on this stretch of the parkway.

"Deteriorating roadway conditions, in addition to extreme weather conditions, such as snow, ice, and fog, contribute to unsafe driving conditions for park visitors and employees," documents explain. "The work proposed in this project would reduce the hazards and improve safety for park visitors and employees."

The stretch of road is popular with tourists, sport car groups and motorcycle drivers. Currently, it costs an estimated $255,000 to manage annually, according to DOI documents. That won't change after the repairs are finished.

The National Park System's deferred maintenance backlog has hovered around $12 billion for years and the DOI's $1.6 billion investment in 2021 is meant to chip away at not only road restoration, but also recreation infrastructure, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education schools needs, according to an April 2 news release.

This year's investment is set to create 18,851 jobs and contribute $2 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product, the release said.

Source: The Daily Times, by Andrew Jones

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Published April 30, 2021