Millions of dollars made available through the federal infrastructure bill will allow construction to begin this year on a permanent fix for a troublesome portion of the Denali Park Road that has been damaged by an ongoing landslide.
The National Park Service is proposing construction of a 400-foot-long steel bridge over the area of the Pretty Rocks landslide, which closed the only road in Denali National Park and Preserve to buses and other recreational traffic at about the halfway point late last summer. Park officials have said the 92-mile road will not reopen past that point in 2022.
The landslide has caused the road to slump slightly for decades, but climate change has exacerbated the issue in recent years — the road was sliding more than a half-inch down the mountain each hour during 2021, the park service said.
If no action is taken, the road will continue to erode and would close permanently to vehicle traffic west of the landslide, park service said.
The park service released an environmental assessment Thursday that provides more details about the bridge proposal. Construction on the bridge, a retaining wall and road realignment would take about two years during the first phase of the project, the park service said. The road will be closed at the landslide during that time.
A second phase of construction would follow and include road widening and additional retaining walls. Traffic would be allowed through the area in that phase.
The Interior Department said Thursday that $25 million for repairs within Denali National Park was made available through the federal infrastructure bill, which was signed into law in November. That funding will allow work to begin this year on the project, bringing it to completion a year earlier than initially planned, according to the Interior Department.
Alaska’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, welcomed news of the funding for the park in a joint statement Thursday.
“The Pretty Rocks Landslide at Polychrome Pass on the Denali Park Road has long been a slow-moving disaster, and this crucial funding will help ensure the road is once again safe for locals and visitors to traverse,” Murkowski said in the statement.
“Denali is ready for visitors in 2022 and will continue to work with our neighbors, inholders and partners to ensure an unforgettable Denali experience throughout the construction phase,” acting park superintendent Brooke Merrell said in a statement.