Vehicle Cap on the Way for Denali Park Road
FAIRBANKS — The National Park Service will limit the number of vehicles allowed on the wilderness portion of Denali Park Road at 160 per day starting in 2015, but that still represents a potential sizable increase in traffic on the only road leading into Alaska’s premier national park.
The 160-vehicle-per-day cap will replace the current seasonal limit of 10,512 vehicles allowed on the road beyond 15 Mile during the 110-day tourist season from Memorial Day to a week after Labor Day. Private traffic on the park road is restricted beyond 15 Mile, and buses are used to shuttle the roughly 400,000 tourists that visit Denali into and out of the park.
The daily cap will increase the number of vehicles allowed on the park road from the current 10,512 to 17,600, but that increase is deceiving because not all vehicles, such as contractors and some tour buses, are counted against the season limit, park spokeswoman Kris Fister said.
The new daily vehicle limit will include all vehicles, including tour buses, park service vehicles, contractors, inholder traffic to lodges at the end of the road, and vehicles driven by professional photographers and film crews who get permits to drive into the park.
The Park Service estimates the total number of vehicles traveling on the road under the current system ranges from about 13,300 to 15,600 with an average daily range of 121-141.
“It could be an increase but not necessarily a huge amount,” Fister said of the 160-vehicle-per-day 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 effort that included a $2 million study to evaluate how increasing traffic on the park road impacts everything from wildlife to tourists to the environment.
While the new cap has not been formally adopted, it is the final recommendation made by the Park Service in an Environmental Impact Statement on the park’s vehicle management plan.
The public has until July 29 to comment on the final decision but it’s not expected to change, Fister said.
The seasonal limit has been in place since 1986, the last time the Park Service revised the traffic management plan. The new system won’t go into effect until the current transportation contract expires on Dec. 31, 2014, Fister said.
The Park Service originally proposed three different alternatives in the draft for the new traffic plan but created a fourth, preferred alternative in the final plan that was based on public comments during the scoping process, Fister said. The Park Service received almost 900 comments on the final draft plan.
The daily 160-vehicle cap could result in what Fister called a “modest” increase in the amount of seasonal traffic but is less than the highest recorded daily count of 174 vehicles in 2007, Fister said. That the new plan has room for traffic growth only makes sense, Fister said.