Foothills Parkway Section 8D/Metcalf Bottoms Access Improvements
In 1944, the US Congress passed Public Law 232 authorizing the construction of the Foothills Parkway adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Parkway would extend for 72 miles between US Route 129 to Interstate 40. Approximately 38.6 miles of the Parkway have been constructed and are open to visitors. The Parkway remains the only congressionally mandated parkway in the United States not completed. One section that has not been developed is Section 8D (approximately 9.8 miles), a corridor from US Highway 321 (Wears Valley Road) to US 441/321 (the Spur) near the cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Line Springs Road/Wear Cove Gap Road currently provide access between US 321 in Wears Valley and Little River Gorge Road in the Park at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area. Wear Cove Gap Road was originally constructed in 1900 as an 18-foot-wide gravel road. The road was paved by NPS in the late 1980s to reduce dust. Use of this road by Park visitors and commuters has continued to increase. The Park obtained initial public input on the proposed Metcalf Bottoms Access Improvements during a civic engagement public comment period from April 20 through May 22, 2020. Comments received during that period were reviewed and incorporated into the current planning effort.
Purpose and Need for Action
The purpose of the proposed action is to: 1) Construct Section 8D of the Foothills Parkway between Wears Valley Road and the Spur; and 2) Address safety and traffic flow issues in the Metcalf Bottoms area to provide high-quality visitor experiences, protect park resources, improve safety along Wear Cove Gap Road, and alleviate existing and future motor vehicle congestion. Both these efforts could alleviate existing and future motor vehicle congestion to complement overall visitor access and traffic flow on the Tennessee side of the Park.
The proposed action is needed to fulfill the intent of the 1944 legislation that authorized construction of the Foothills Parkway and to address safety, congestion, and visitor access in the Metcalf Bottoms area. Traffic volume on Wear Cove Gap Road exceeds design capacity and creates safety concerns, especially for large vehicles. The high volume of park-related traffic is also a concern on Line Springs Road outside the Park. Current access along Line Springs Road/Wears Cove Gap Road was not designed to accommodate the volume or size of vehicles that currently use it. The steep and winding road can be a challenge for large vehicles, including recreational vehicles that cannot make a sharp 90-degree turn at the bridge to the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area. Additionally, the lack of separation between pedestrians and vehicles at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area is a concern, specifically near the one-lane bridge and where vehicles need to back up onto Wear Cove Gap Road to exit the parking area for the restroom facilities.
Dana Soehn 865-436-1207
The National Park Service (NPS), in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), has initiated planning efforts for Section 8D of the Foothills Parkway (Section 8D) between Wears Valley and the Gatlinburg Spur (the Spur). At the same time, NPS is continuing planning efforts on Metcalf Bottoms Access Improvements in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the Park). In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Section 8D and the Metcalf Bottoms Access Improvements projects are considered "similar actions." In other words, these projects share similar geography, timing, purpose, and other features but have independent utility and could proceed independently.