Sun Road plan notes traffic ‘near capacity’

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A public meeting for the review of Glacier National Park’s long-awaited Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor Management Plan is expected to be scheduled for mid-September, giving local residents an opportunity to weigh in on the plan that aims to identify strategies and actions for improving transportation, visitation, trails and access during the park’s peak season.

The plan’s proposed actions are robust and include expanding upon the popular shuttle system, extending hours at Apgar and St. Mary visitor centers, adding onto hiking and biking trails, managing traffic and parking using day-use parking permits in densely populated areas, the construction of a new 100-car parking lot on the west side and expanding parking on the east side.

The proposals are all centered around addressing growing pains that have become more evident in the park in recent years.

The 184-page Corridor Management Plan — a multi-year undertaking by park officials, researchers and other stakeholders — can be found on the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment website. The public will have 30 days to comment on the plan.

“The public, local businesses and elected officials have played an important role in this project from the beginning,” Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said. “Maintaining a quality experience while sustaining the park for generations to come will continue to be a community conversation as we develop tools and implement strategies to address substantial increases in visitation to our park and surrounding local areas.”

Complaint letters from visitors have increased, describing crowding, lack of parking and congestion conditions” along the popular road, the press release said.

And according to the plan itself, it is deeply needed in order to “address a range of changing conditions and challenges with the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor associated with unprecedented visitation patterns and dynamic use pattern.” The conclusion of the plan notes traffic engineers categorized the Going-to-the-Sun Road as having “volumes near capacity” with unstable flows.

Between 2015 and 2017, visitation in the park skyrocketed by 3.3 million visitors — a jump that has prompted vehicle closures and restrictions to prevent traffic gridlock and ensure emergency vehicle access in high-growth areas such as Logan Pass and Avalanche. At top points throughout the summer, visitors may wait up to two hours to board shuttles and find parking difficult, particularly along the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor. Since 1980, visitation has increased a staggering 124%.

Aside from the main issues focused on addressing traffic congestion, other problems include a spike in vehicle accidents in 2019 compared to other years, keeping up with the disposing of human waste and improving wait times at commonly used restrooms such as the ones at Logan Pass.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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