Corridor K: A Revived Relic of the 1960s

Goforth Creek, Tennessee: Goforth Creek, a popular spot for hiking and trout fishing, is in the bull’s eye of Corridor K.

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Photo © Jerry Greer

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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 once-dormant but now 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 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. The proposed new highways would slash through steep, mountainous countryside and exact a huge toll on the region’s natural heritage and taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

In addition to the impacts on mountain and forest ecosystems and outdoor recreation, projected traffic levels fail to justify the enormous cost of building new highways through these rugged landscapes. What’s more, all of this new asphalt would do almost nothing to improve current travel times.

A More Cost-Effective Option

Beacuse the stream of federal funds once earmarked for Corridor K has been cut off by Congress, completing this project would take dollars away from other priorities, such as repairing structurally deficient bridges. The sensible alternative is to make improvements to the safety and efficiency of existing roads, which would avoid robbing hundreds of millions of dollars from real transportation needs in both Tennessee and North Carolina.

A Threat to the Cherokee National Forest

As part of the Corridor K project, the Tennessee Department of Transportation is proposing to build 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, and fragment habitat for black bear and other wildlife.

In addition to chewing through largely pristine national forest lands, the new highway would require blasting through areas containing “hot rock,” resulting in potentially disastrous acidic runoff in trout streams and the Ocoee.

A Threat to the Snowbird Mountains

In North Carolina, the current plan for Corridor K is to build a new four-lane highway on unstable mountain terrain in the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail and upstream of prime trout waters. NCDOT's plans would require two tunnels, together over a mile long, through the Snowbird and Cheoah Mountains. These tunnels  would require 24-hour on-site emergency staff. As in Tennessee, the pyritic rock exposed by the project would result in acid-laden runoff in mountain streams.

In both states, an alternative plan that takes advantage of existing roadways could be built now with available funds, but the state departments of transportation have resisted even considering these common sense solutions.

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