Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cades Cove Loop Road Repaving Plans

On November 13, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson conducted a public briefing at which he and Park staff members laid out the various alternatives and time-tables for the Cades Cove repaving project.

The purpose of the briefing was to get public reaction from the community regarding which method would have the least impact on the visitor and on the neighboring communities. At the meeting, Park officials showed a PowerPoint presentation illustrating the construction method and the various alternatives for road closures. At the request of those in attendance, the Park posted the presentation to the Park website.

Right now, the repaving project is scheduled to occur during the first-half of 2010, with full closure of the one-way loop lasting 2 months, or a series of partial closures lasting up to 4 months.

The 11-mile, one-way, single lane, Cades Cove Loop Road was last repaved in 1978 and has badly deteriorated into a mass of patches, ruts and potholes. It has very inadequate ditches, culverts and other drainage so that water pools on the road, seeping between the layers then freezing and thawing, further cracking the pavement. The Park plans to completely reconstruct a solid sub-base layer to support the pavement. In addition they plan to create ditches, and add culverts to drain the water off the surface.

Unfortunately the project will not address traffic congestion, which, for anyone who is familiar with Cades Cove, is like sitting in rush hour traffic during orange barrel season. It’s especially frustrating for people who simply want to hike one of the trails located off the loop road.

The way I see it, there are six things that could be done to ease congestion, some likely to help, some probably impractical.

1) As I mentioned in a previous post, there was an extensive interview with Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson in the latest issue of Smokies Life Magazine. Mr. Ditmanson acknowledged the heavy traffic problems in Cades Cove. He mentioned using buses as a possible solution, but cited issues with parking as being problematic, i.e., not enough open space in Townsend to create parking lots large enough to handle all of the tourists.

2) Build passing lanes on certain sections of the road. This probably would never happen due to limited space. Moreover, tourists would probably occupy this additional lane for stopping as well.

3) Create a separate bike lane. Again, there may not be enough space to create the width needed for a bike lane. If the loop did have enough space, the question would be would enough people choose to get from behind the wheel and ride to make a difference in traffic. With fresh smooth pavement, I would think that the number of people willing to ride would probably increase, especially people on road bikes. Enough to make an impact on traffic congestion? Probably not.

4) How about stricter enforcement of rules? Technically, it’s against the law for drivers to stop in the middle of the road. What if we had rangers patrolling the most congested sections on horseback to enforce the law and keep traffic moving? Or, what if they started handing out tickets?

5) More signs and better education. What if the park increased the number of signs and did a better job of educating drivers that they cannot stop in the middle of the road? The park should somehow emphasize the importance of having slower drivers pull over to allow others to pass.

6) Stop encouraging people to “auto tour”. The park should stop publishing pamphlets and remove anything from the park website that encourages auto touring. The park should encourage people to get out of their cars, not stay in them.

What do you think about these solutions? Do you think any of these would have an impact? Are there any others that I haven’t considered?


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Anonymous said...

No question the road needed to be paved, but just paving it to it's original form is short-sided. Buses could be a solution if they had pick-ups in Gatlinburg and Townsend. (my guess is more people are coming from the Gatlinburg side anyway) Pick-ups in Gatlinburg would also help to cut down on car emissions in the park as well. When I hiked Gregory Bald (11+ miles) a few years back with some friends - the last thing we wanted to do was sit in traffic for 45 minutes, but that's exactly how long it took us to get out of Cades Cove. The park needs to address this problem - it won't get any better.

Smokies Hiker said...

Sadly none of your suggestions will work or happen.

Stop cars from riding on Cades Cove Loop? Can’t do it as they are getting much of the money to fix the road and receive continual funding by the Federal Highway Administration.

Very simply the road can not be made wider or have passing lanes and you will never see a bike lane (or make that a lane that will be obeyed).

Better signage? Doesn’t matter. In a period of 45 minutes I had to stop 3 people from trying to feed a deer (rutting buck) in the back end of the Cove yesterday less than 75 feet from a do not feed wild animals sign. Couldn’t even count how many were less than 10 feet from him (8 pointer).

Stricter enforcement? They need the manpower to do it. Should they ticket? Yes, and they should ticket anyone beeping a horn in a tunnel in the park as well.

No auto tours? Explain that to the handicapped persons and the fact that more than 95% of the people who enter the park never leave their car and those that do leave their car, most don’t go more than a few hundred feet.

More “novice” hikers in the Cove on the Loop? You think you have traffic issues now imagine the people who have no courtesy or manners to pull over now walking in the middle of the road and in blind spots as drivers are looking for deer and bear. Guess how many won’t be able to make it back to the car walking with traffic and will walk against it? Talk about accidents waiting to happen.

Parking in Townsend and taking a tram that you can jump on and off (better be at no charge or you won't believe the uproar) along the Cove may work but can the park afford the transit system and the parking requirements? Absolutely not.

Should a private company make money off of every person coming into the Cove basically now changing for access to the park. No. It would break the fundamental promise of the park from its inception.

We need to deal with the traffic and hope that enforcement can be stepped up.