‘Missing Link’ bridges on Foothills Parkway on schedule for completion in 2017

Over the past three decades a 1.65-mile section of the Foothills Parkway known as the “Missing Link” has come to epitomize the setbacks and delays that have beset the project as a whole.

When completed, the Foothills Parkway will stretch 72 miles between Cosby, Tenn., to the east, and U.S. Highway 129 to the west. Congress authorized the project in 1944, but so far, only three segments totaling 22.5 miles are open to the public. Of the seven congressionally mandated scenic highways, the Foothills Parkway is the only one that remains unfinished.

The parkway’s most vexing challenge has been the Missing Link, where nine bridges are required to span a series of steep ravines on the south-facing slope of the mountain. Only 1.65 miles long, the Missing Link has been a major engineering challenge since 1989 when construction was halted due to structural fill failures and erosion problems.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which administers the Foothills Parkway, had hoped to have the Missing Link bridges finished this year in time for the National Park Service’s centennial celebration, but geological conditions caused delays. The new target date for the completion of the Missing Link bridges is June 5, 2017.

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