Oldest Unfinished Highway Project in Tennessee
If you have driven into Townsend from Maryville you have passed signs for the Foothills Parkway. In case you didn’t know, the Foothills Parkway Project has been ongoing since 1944 when the construction project was approved by congress. Though this National Park Service roadway has not been completed the parts of it that are completed provide wonderful views of the Smokies and connects Hwy 129 and Hwy 73 and connect I-40 with the Jones Cove Area in Cocke County.
With the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which opened in 1934, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which got approved in the 1930s, the Smoky Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley area were joined. The Blue Ridge Parkway however was going to end in Cherokee , NC and not make the final journey into the Tennessee side of the Smokies. This meant that people would be able to make the beautiful drive through the Blue Ridge and end up on the North Carolina side of the Smokies but not make the connection to the new recreational areas in Tennessee.
To that end, Frank Maloney begin to press Congress to establish a parkway to connect the various parts of the Smokies in Tennessee. In 1944, authorized the construction of the 71-mile Foothills Parkway that would run from US-129 in Blount County and connect to I-40 in Cocke County. In the late 40s and early 50s – the Department of the Interior and the Tennessee Highway Department begin purchasing the rights to build the parkway. Construction began during the 60s and though progress seemed to be clipping along, construction stalled during the 70s and this project has been underfunded since that point. Though parts of the project have continued to be completed even during the 21st century, funding has been slow coming to this building project. Being less then half way completed, some in the area wonder if they will ever get to see the Foothills Parkway completed.
Right now, the most complete section of the Foothills Parkway connects US 129 in Blount county to US 73 in Blount county. In other words you can now go from Chilhowee Lake to the Walland area in Blount County. The other end of this Parkway is also compete with a section that ruins from I-40 to the Jones Cove area in Cocke County. It is the center part of the Parkway that remains incomplete. In fact the area connecting Blount and Sevier County will require a number of bridges to complete and this has hurt its ability to be funded. At times the section that is complete in Wears Valley is open to horseback riding and hiking but no car traffic. With proper funding this road could take some of the stress off major thorough fares around the Smoky Mountains and allow for quicker travel between some of the major cities in the Smokies. Until this project is completed we are left with two pieces of the whole project that do allow for some great views a two terrific driving experiences but do not connect the Tennessee Smoky Mountains as intended.