FAIRBANKS - The National Park Service expects to limit the number of vehicles allowed daily on the wilderness stretch of the Denali Park Road beginning in 2015.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported the 160-vehicle cap effective in 2015 still represents a potential sizable increase in traffic on the only road leading into Denali National Park and Preserve.
The cap is expected to replace the current seasonal limit of 10,512 vehicles allowed on the road beyond mile 15 during the 110-day tourist season. The Park Service estimates the total number of vehicles on the road under the current system averages 121-141 per day.
The new cap has not been formally adopted, but it is the final recommendation made by the Park Service.
The public has until July 29 to comment. Officials said the recommendation is not expected to change.
The daily cap would increase the number of allowed vehicles to 17,600. However, that increase is misleading because not all vehicles, such as contractors and some tour buses, are counted against the season limit, according to park spokeswoman Kris Fister.
The new cap daily vehicle limit would include all vehicles, including tour buses and park service vehicles.
"It could be an increase but not necessarily a huge amount," Fister said of the future cap. "It's hard to quantify because we weren't keeping track of a lot of stuff before."
The decision to cap the daily number of vehicles allowed on the gravel section of the 92-mile Denali Park Road follows a four-year planning period. The planning effort included a $2 million study looking at how increasing traffic on the park road impacts everything from wildlife to tourists to the environment.
The seasonal limit has been in place since 1986. That was the last time the Park Service revised the traffic management plan.
The Park Service originally proposed three different alternatives for the new plan but created a fourth, preferred alternative in the final plan that was based on public comments, Fister said.
Ron Peck, president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, said most tour companies are comfortable with the new traffic plan.
"We're hopeful the new plan is going to allow for some growth," Peck said. "Ultimately, what we want to have is a good visitor experience and maintain the environmental integrity of the park."
Increased traffic on the road is opposed by the Denali Citizens Council, a nonprofit group comprised of local residents.
"We think the 160-vehicle limit is set too high, and they haven't proved environmentally it won't be damaging," board member Nancy Bale said. "We don't think they should put the limit into regulation until they do more environmental analysis."