In addition to Glacier National Park’s vehicle reservation system, engineered to reduce congestion along the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor, summertime visitors may encounter another stumbling block delaying their enjoyment of the park’s stunning alpine reaches — road construction.
Park officials announced Monday that a slew of construction operations, primarily in the western half of the park, will cause traffic delays and some road closures, including blocking pre-dawn access to the famed Sun Road.
“These are projects that are absolutely necessary and need to be completed,” said Glacier Park Public Affairs Assistant Brandy Burke. “Unfortunately, when the park is open to visitors is also when construction season is in Montana.”
The most significant delays to visitors will be caused by ongoing construction projects that began last summer. Those include a series of bridge renovations throughout the park and a utility and pavement preservation project along Lake McDonald.
The utilities and repaving project along Lake McDonald will close a section of the Sun Road to all vehicle and recreational access beginning in early April, when road crews commence spring plowing operations, until May 5. After May 5, visitors will have access to Lake McDonald Lodge but will encounter traffic delays of up to 30-minutes due to utility work between Apgar Campground and Sprague Creek, which delays will continue throughout the visitation season. In addition, crews will repave 9.3 miles of Going-to-the-Sun Road from the foot of Lake McDonald to North Lake McDonald Road.
“The pavement structure is over 27 years old. Given the edge conditions along the road, we could not add anymore pavement thickness without creating unsafe pavement edge drop offs for vehicles and impacting historic headwalls, drainage chutes, and having negative impacts to vegetation,” Federal Highway’s Michael Traffalis stated in a press release.
Repaving a nearly 10-mile stretch of Going-to-the-Sun Road will lead to regular 30-minute delays along Lake McDonald for the duration of summer and will close all pullouts in the construction zone along the lake’s west shore, in addition to eliminating access via the West Glacier entrance prior to 6 a.m. Park officials encourage visitors to use the St. Mary entrance to the park to access Logan Pass and Avalanche once the road fully opens for the season.
Adding to the Lake McDonald area construction is the replacement of the upper McDonald Creek Bridge, which is used to access private homes, trailheads and the Lake McDonald Ranger Station on the northeast shore of the lake. Construction on the bridge is slated to begin in early April and will include a full closure of North Lake McDonald Road beginning at the intersection with Going-to-the-Sun Road. This closure will include the Johns Lake Loop Trail. The new bridge will be constructed roughly 30 feet upstream, requiring a realignment of the road.
“The existing bridge is 58 years old. Repairs in recent years have resulted in improvements, but deterioration will continue with the structure’s age, continued use, and environmental conditions,” Traffalis stated. “If the bridge is not replaced, progressive failure will cause further load restrictions, and the bridge will eventually become unsafe for vehicle access and will need to be closed and/or removed for safety reasons.”
Bridge construction is expected to span all of 2023 and be completed in late 2024. This year marks the second summer of a project to rehabilitate 13 bridges. In 2023, crews will work on the Bowman, Kintla, Akokala and Ford bridges in the North Fork area as well as the Fish Creek Bridge near the West Entrance and the Lee Creek Bridge along Chief Mountain Highway.
All roads in the North Fork area of the park will be closed to vehicle traffic until May 25, and the four bridges are expected see short delays from May 26 through early September. All bridge construction areas will be closed from mid-September through mid-November. In addition, GNP road crews will be grading five miles of the road to Kintla Lake beginning in July, and visitors are likely to encounter heavy truck traffic and minor delays.
The Fish Creek Bridge is expected to be paved in late May before the Fish Creek campground opens for the season, and the bridge will be closed to all traffic from May 1 through May 25.
Outside the Glacier National Park boundaries, visitors can expect delays from additional road work the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is performing around the park. Near Polebridge, a section of Glacier Drive just north of the business area will be under construction beginning July 10, while the stretch of road running through the business area will be under construction beginning Aug. 14, which will lead to parking restrictions. Visitors can expect 30-minute delays in the Polebridge area, in addition to any delays from construction inside the park boundary.
Near the Marias Pass area south of the park, MDT is continuing paving and chip resealing work throughout the spring and summer on U.S. Highway 2. Traffic control including single lane restriction and short delays can be expected throughout the summer.
Along U.S. Highway 89 immediately east and south of St. Mary, travelers can expect traffic control and short delays due to an ongoing MDT construction project.
With the extend of projects throughout and around Glacier Park, officials remind visitors to “plan like a park ranger,” according to Burke. “With all of this information people can begin planning their trips, know in advance where these construction zones are and have some extra patience on hand.”
To check the latest updates on construction in Glacier Park visit www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/projectwork.htm
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