SEVIERVILLE — Federal transportation officials have authorized a project that could ease congestion on state Highway 66 at the Interstate 40 interchange leading to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The proposal to build a diverging diamond intersection at the busy crossing was submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for its consideration in mid-December. According to The Mountain Press, the agency has since responded with support for the idea, which state engineers have projected will be instrumental toward alleviating congestion and improving safety in that area (http://bit.ly/wYEDPF).
A diverging diamond intersection gives left-turning vehicles uninterrupted access to the highway through their own ramps by channeling traffic temporarily to the other side of the road. Such intersections, borrowed from Europe, have been studied in the U.S. for the past few years.
The Mountain Press said approval by the highway industry is a key step toward making the proposal a reality. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has already signed on to the idea.
Highway 66 leads off I-40 and feeds traffic through the resort towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The 15 miles between the interstate and the park are among the most congested in Tennessee. According to TDOT, up to 45,000 vehicles pass between the interstate and the park daily.
Much of the way is lined with motels, restaurants, shopping malls, miniature golf courses, go-cart tracks, theaters, the Dollywood theme park and tourist attractions on both sides of the road.