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$22 million federal highway grant allows road widening in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park Landscape Architect Dan Rhodes explains the expected work on Grand Loop Road near Golden Gate
Ruth Eddy
Yellowstone National Park Landscape Architect Dan Rhodes explains the expected work on Grand Loop Road near Golden Gate

The head of the Federal Highway Administration stopped in Yellowstone National Park to announce a new wave of federal funding that will upgrade outdated but heavily-trafficked roads.

At the Golden Gate pull out on the winding Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone National park, above is a towering vertical cliff wall and below is a steep canyon with a rushing waterfall.

This road was an engineering feat when it was originally built over a hundred years ago as one of the original stagecoach roads into park. The last improvements on this well-traveled section of road were made in 1977. The aging road is slated for some overdue maintenance.

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said, “An extremely high percentage of visitors never get more than half a mile away from their car, so it’s imperative we have safe, modern and well maintained transportation assets across the park.“

On Tuesday, June 18, park leadership and Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt gathered at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel to announce that overdue maintenance will finally be fixed—with a $22 million grant from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

“Part of our challenge as a nation is that much of our infrastructure was designed in the 20th century for traffic volumes and particularly the climate of the 20th century," Bhatt said.

The Federal Highway Administration funds will be used to improve safety by widening the road to a standard 30-foot width and adding safety rock fall ditches on the mountain side. Rock falls have been common and significant on this stretch of road.

Part of the project's high price tag for under a mile of road is that widening the road will include significant rock blasting to remove 90,000 tons of rock. However, some of the rock known as Huckleberry Tuff will remain close by. “All this stone is going to go into the facing of the new rock walls and to supplement any of the historic rock from the deteriorated veneer.,” said Yellowstone Park Landscape Architect Dan Rhodes.

Also included in the project is a new parking lot at Bunsen Peak with additional car and oversized spaces, as well as a new restroom. The parking lot will connect to a walking trail following Glenn Creek and lead to the brink of Rustic Falls, with rock walls protecting pedestrians from traffic.

The project will cause road delays once construction begins, but Sholly said it will be worth it in the long run to improve visitor and employee safety.

The project is set to begin next April with major construction occurring in the shoulder season.