The last time this tremendously popular road in the Great Smoky Mountains national park was paved was in 1978 and it has long needed significant repairs for more than 10 years.
First of all this single lane road will not be widened and will continue to have its 11 foot width throughout the entire Cades Cove Loop. There are however discussions to consider to have as many as 12 paved pull offs.
The main goal of this paving project is to completely replace the existing roadway since its past the point of repair. In order to do this the contractor must break up the existing road, grind it up, and mix in new concrete creating a new base and then install a new asphalt road surface.
Presently without proper drainage to lead water away from seeping under the road surface, water that does get under the road during the winter is freezing and thawing accelerating the breaking up the roadway.
Besides age and heavy use, the Cades Cove Loop Road is in such as sad state because of this lack of drainage along the roadside which is going to be added during this massive construction project.
What the national park service has proposed in it pubic meeting at the Heritage Center which was attended 2 dozen people, are 4 options for closing and allowing access to visitors in Cades Cove during the road construction process.
Basically the plans range from a complete closure of the Cades Cove Loop Road from April of 2010 to the end of May affecting approximately 250,000 visitors, to closing the road in 2 or more sections which can affect as many as 500,000 visitors and will take far longer.
Beside major traffic hassles and safety issues if the road is closed in sections, it will affect far more visitors and create a far more environmentally detrimental carbon footprint due to longer constriction time and gas used to navigate the tremendous detours that can add as much as 40 miles to this 11 mile auto tour!
If Cades Cove Loop Road is closed in sections, the park service is proposing under some options to send exiting traffic out Parson Branch Road which is an unpaved and dumping drivers onto the dangerous Tail of the Dragon 30 miles out of the way with no facilities, gas or cell phone service.
Extending the Cades Cove construction project with partial closures will also tack on higher costs onto the whole project with increased construction costs, signage costs, more lost business for gateway towns, more lost business to the Cades Cove concessions and a huge cost and manpower issue of traffic management.
The park did a great job working on alternatives and presenting them, but for economic, safety, ecological and negative visitor impact, closing Cades Cove Road and repaving in one shot is the best option.
If Cades Cove Lop Road is closed completely during the repaving project, with the monies saved over the other options the National Park Service may be able to afford paying to have work done 7 days a week and or at night as well which would speed up the whole process.