Corridor K: A Revived Relic of the 1960s
Billion-Dollar Proposed New NC, TN Highway Sections Threaten Mountains and Forests
Some of the most stunning mountain forests in the Southeast are in the path of Corridor K, a rebooted multi-billion-dollar plan to replace portions of the U.S. highways connecting Chattanooga, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina.
First proposed in the 1960s, before these two cities were connected by interstates, Corridor K was conceived as a way to spur industrial development in the Appalachians. Today, however, building new highways through unbroken forests would jeopardize the region’s true economic engine: the unspoiled vistas, clear-running trout waters, and backcountry recreation sites that drive outdoor tourism.
Pushing New Asphalt Through Sensitive Terrain
The proposed new highways would slash through steep mountain forests, taking a heavy toll on forest ecosystems, streams, and outdoor recreation. The cost to taxpayers would also be unjustified: the existing highway between Chattanooga and Asheville, much of which consists of overbuilt and underused four-lane stretches, has more than enough capacity for the area’s projected transportation needs, and the new highway would do almost nothing to improve current travel times for through-traffic.
A Threat to the Cherokee National Forest
As part of the Corridor K project, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has proposed a new highway through the Cherokee National Forest north of the existing highway, which follows the Ocoee River. It would destroy much-loved recreation areas like the Rock Creek Scenic Gorge and Goforth Creek Canyon, cause constant truck noise in protected wilderness areas, fragment habitat for wildlife, and cause disastrous acidic runoff from blasting in areas with sulfur-bearing rocks.
More recently, however, in response to concerns about environmental and recreational impacts, TDOT proposed a tunnel under the mountains—the impacts to the national forest from this costly alternative are still being evaluated.
A Threat to the Snowbird Mountains
In North Carolina, the the DOT plans to build a new four-lane highway through the Nantahala National Forest, on unstable mountain terrain in the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail and upstream of prime trout waters. As in Tennessee, the pyritic rock exposed by the project would result in acid-laden runoff in mountain streams.
A More Cost-Effective Option
In both states, the DOTs have resisted a commonsense solution—making targeted improvements to the safety and efficiency of the existing highways along Corridor K. Upgrading existing highways would not only avoid much of the environmental impact, but it would also be much more fiscally responsible, finishing the project with the funds leftover from an expired federal earmark and leaving hundreds of millions of state dollars for more urgent needs and repairs of crumbling infrastructure.
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