Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg says he’s revved up to obtain federal funding to fix Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. But he doesn’t seem as excited about helping ease traffic congestion during the eight long years of roadwork.
“I’m pretty optimistic about our opportunity to fix the highway,” Rehberg said in a press release ballyhooing his efforts on behalf of the road, which he hailed as “one of the crown jewels of any highway within our park system.”
He pledged to try to add “over $100 million” to the new six-year transportation funding bill set for completion by the end of February.
What he didn’t mention was this: He’s not going after money in this legislation for shuttle buses and other visitor-friendly measures to allay traffic headaches while the road is overhauled. For that money, Rehberg’s press secretary explained when we phoned, the park will have to rely on its annual appropriation from the Interior Department.
That makes those projects iffy at best. All national parks are notoriously under-funded. Lack of maintenance is why Going-to-the-Sun Road so desperately needs overhauling now. The precipitous road, an engineering marvel that celebrated its 70th anniversary last summer, is in danger of crumbling off the narrow ledges it follows on its winding course through the park’s renowned alpine scenery.
The park originally planned to shut down the road, the only motor route through Glacier, for a couple of years during repairs. After tourist-dependent businesses complained, the park decided to stretch out the work over about eight years, keeping at least one lane open in the summers.
But that means eight years of traffic jams, and a citizens advisory committee recommended that the park buy 15 shuttle buses to alleviate the mess.
“A chaotic situation is going to be even more chaotic without those buses,” says Steve Thompson of the National Parks Conservation Association.