The first I heard about the Road to Nowhere in Western North Carolina was in a piece on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon. It seems that the National Parks Service made a promise 60 years ago to build a road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so that people could visit the graves of loved ones buried in the park. Construction began, but was never finished. Now there's just a stub of a road jutting into the park.
Charles Taylor, along with families with relatives buried in the park, is pushing to have the road completed. I can see why this would seem like a good idea to Taylor. Call it pork or constituent services, this is exactly the kind of bacon that representatives can bring home from Washington to improve their districts and ensure their reelection.
Except, in this case, it isn't. For starters, the cost is estimated to be over half a billion dollars. That's a tiny piece of the federal budget, but in a year of serious cuts to state services and amid stories of earmarks out of control in a Republican-controlled Congress, it's a chunk of change. Then there's the environmental cost. As my mother always said, "you only get one Great Smoky Mountains National Park!" (Ok, my mother never said that.) The road would negatively impact "endangered species, newly discovered species, wetlands, creeks, soundscapes, rare plants and wildlife such as birds, bears and fish," not to mention the Appalachian Trail.
But the real kicker is that a the government of Swain County (where the road would be) has already negotiated at $52 million settlement with the Parks Service to satisfy the decades-old promise. At a public hearing earlier this month, county residents strongly favored the payment, which would be used for "tax relief, new schools, more police officers, additional recreational opportunities or other uses approved by voters." (Swain County's per capita income is only three-fourths of the state average, and the percentage of citizens living below the poverty level is about 50% higher than the state average.)
So, to sum up: either a county in need gets a windfall out of a promise many had probably long since forgotten, or Charles Taylor paves the Park.
[This isn't the first mention of the Road to Nowhere at BlueNC -- it makes an appearance in Foppert's piece comparing the campaigns of Larry Kissell and Heath Shuler.]