Sun Road reconstruction was far from a sure thing

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Bear grass blooms as the Sun Road snakes below in Glacier National Park. (Daily Inter Lake file)

I’d like to congratulate Glacier National Park on completing the Going-to-the-Sun Road rehabilitation.

A feat to be celebrated both for the restoration of the road and the fact that the public may not have to endure more! I’d wanted to come to Glacier since I was 11 years old reading about the park in the Coral Gables Public Library, little did I know how involved I would become with the park and this project.

The approval to start this project was a very close thing, the National Park Service brass did not want this project to move forward at all, not a penny.

We were told many times, “Go ahead and do the environmental impact statement, but don’t expect that this project will ever be approved much less funded. It’s just not in the cards.”

They didn’t count on the team to be so committed as they doggedly pursued this for nearly eight years. The project was well thought out and included not only reconstruction, but innovative techniques, public transit and transit centers.

When we finished presenting the project to the Development Advisory Board in Denver, to a packed room, the associate director Sue Masica, said; “I absolutely hate this project, but after that presentation I can’t think of a reason we wouldn’t approve it.”

The room erupted in applause. A key reason for the success of this project was the fact that the management team at the Federal Lands Highway Program committed to our desire for one indefinite delivery indefinite quantity contract for the life of the project of eight to 10 years. This had never been done before by FLHP or the NPS and since, at the time, this was the largest project they had performed, it was astonishing.

It enabled us to take advantage of funding year after year. I’d like to especially mention Jack Gordon, Mary Riddle, Fred Babb, Gary Danczyk, Glenn Smith, Amy Vanderbilt, The FLHP staff (indispensable), Beth Blacker (couldn’t have kept up without you), and the operations staff of the park who dealt with the project for years and kept things running.

The real question now is will the NPS provide adequate stewardship over the road and the massive amount of public treasure that was invested into the future. My estimate, based on the National Academy of Science, is that it will require somewhere between 1 percent and 3 percent of the total investment every year on average.

The public should get to know what the plan is, they paid for it, and the road is a major economic engine for Montana. I’m well aware of the park’s specific and broad needs, but not protecting this investment shouldn’t be an option.

So what are the plan details Superintendent Mow?

—John K. Kilpatrick was chief of facility management in Glacier National Park and Going-to-the-Sun Road senior project manager 1997-2008

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