The pressure to get Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun Road, which sustained some serious damage during a torrential rain storm last November, fully open is on. While the plan is to achieve that goal by July 1, the unknown could affect that.
That "unknown" happens to be a rather large mudslide that buried a portion of the road on the west side of Logan Pass near Triple Arches.
"It quick froze in place (last fall) before we could get it removed," park spokeswoman Amy Vanderbilt tells me. "The unknown is what the crew will find under this mass volume of mud and rock that landed on the road last November. But the crew is making fast progress. They are only a short distance from that, less than a mile from that debris slide."
Things are not so rosy on the east side of the pass, as six portions of the highway below the east tunnel, including a stretch about 110 feet in length that was washed out, need to be repaired. A considerable stretch of retaining wall also must be rebuilt.
To address that washout, park officials are bringing in a temporary, 125-foot-long, two-lane bridge to span the abyss. With that in place, crews will begin rebuilding the roadbed from beneath the bridge. If all goes as planned, the mess on the west side of Logan Pass will be easily cleaned up and the bridge will be in place by July 1 so public traffic can then negotiate the entire Sun Road while work continues below the temporary span.
The road work will continue through the summer, into the fall, and possibly into next year.
Snowplows earlier this week had opened the east side of the road to the washout, clearing the way for work to begin on the washout. Ms. Vanderbilt says three sections of damage must be repaired before the temporary span can be put in place. And once the bridge is in place, crews must rebuild a section of retaining wall higher up on the road before public traffic can be allowed, she says.
This roadwork requires that supplies and materials be stockpiled at the Sun Point parking lot. As a result, all east-side over-sized vehicles will be required to park at the Rising Sun boat launch for the immediate future.
Despite the damage and repair work, Glacier is open to the public.
"Regardless of road repairs and rehabilitation, we want to reiterate that Glacier National Park is open and will be open for normal visitor services this season,” says Superintendent Mick Holm. "Although visitors won’t be able to drive across the entire Sun Road this June, they can still enjoy a host of recreational activities and visitor services and enjoy the lower elevation portions of the scenic Sun Road.”
One other thing to keep in mind is that a long-term, extensive rehabilitation of the Sun Road will begin in earnest this summer. So even once the storm damage is repaired, negotiating this 50-mile stretch of road will be slower than normal. But that doesn't mean you should avoid the road. The scenery along the route is exceptional and the hiking possibilities -- Avalanche Lake, the trail to Hidden Lake for example -- are well-worth enduring any slowdown on the road.
West-side rehab work on the Sun Road is scheduled to begin on or about July 1 between the tunnel and Haystack Creek, a distance of 3.5 miles.
To stay atop of Glacier's road work, bookmark this web site. You can also get updates by calling 511, the Montana Department of Transportation Traveler Information System, or 1-800-226-7623. Both numbers are toll-free. Select “Glacier Park Tourist Information” from the main menu to hear Glacier’s road report.