commentary (2006-46)

Rep. Shuler and the new Congress should erect the signs

North Shore Road, I-3 are “Nowhere”

by Barry Henderson

The best thing about Heath Shuler’s election to Congress is not that he was a cover-boy quarterback at UT, and certainly not that he lines up with the Blue Dog Democrats and their social conservatism. The best thing about Shuler’s whipping Charlie Taylor, that bumbling, corrupt eight-term congressman in North Carolina’s 11th District is that we won’t have the North Shore Road to combat any more.

Shuler’s avowed environmentalism is what stood him in good stead with Tennesseans, who contributed substantial sums to his campaign. A charter member of the Friends of the Smokies, Shuler now stands guard over the southern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It has been Taylor’s recalcitrance that has kept the North Shore Road an issue in recent years. He has insisted that the road promised to Swain County, N.C. residents in 1943, when TVA’s flooding of Fontana Lake cut a few people off from their family graveyards, should be completed.

Never mind the damage it would do to the national park, or the projected 15 years of construction at a cost approaching $500 million, the 35 miles of roadway through rugged territory was a Taylor obsession. Not even votes of the Swain County Commission to accept a $52 million federal contribution in lieu of the road was acceptable to Taylor.

Now he’s gone and the National Park Service can go ahead and recommend to the Secretary of the Interior that its draft Environmental Impact Statement makes the cash settlement the only reasonable option, and Congress, led by its North Carolina and Tennessee delegations, can appropriate the settlement sum.

The federal commitment to maintain access to the cemeteries via boat and all-terrain vehicle should be kept intact, but the completed road section should end up just as it has been described for decades: “nowhere.”

In that same vein, Shuler’s position with his district astride the Western North Carolina panhandle will allow him to effectively prevent the proposed interstate boondoggle, I-3, from coursing through any of his counties.

Advanced by Georgia’s Republican senators and representatives in Congress, I-3 would connect Savannah with I-75, arriving at Knoxville after decimating the Appalachians in North Georgia, Western North Carolina and East Tennessee.

Virtually all the mountain counties potentially affected (no route has yet been set in stone) are against the new interstate, as are most of the news media outlets in the region who have editorialized against its environmental folly.

A referendum item in Towns County, Ga., in the Nov. 7 election showed that 93 percent of that county’s voters were flatly opposed to hosting a new interstate. Towns County’s most famous native, former U.S. Senator Zell Miller, who was a co-sponsor of the original federal proposal for I-3, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution a few weeks ago that he understood the idea was pushed largely as a means to get a much more limited interstate established linking Savannah with Augusta, Ga. He suggested that the interstate will never reach North Georgia, let alone Tennessee, and former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes has said flatly that I-3 will never be built at all.

A companion interstate, I-14 from Savannah to Natchez, Miss., has raised little opposition and will likely be constructed eventually. Feasibility studies on both of those interstates have been underway for more than a year.

To the I-3 link up here, we say, feasibility hell, and we presume that Congressman-elect Shuler will align himself with the rest of the North Carolina and Tennessee members of Congress who have opposed it for their states and districts.