10 National Park Service Mega Transportation Projects

“Mega” transportation projects are initiatives at the National Park Service that require a large amount of funding beyond the capacity of the Federal Lands Transportation Program’s (FLTP) annual allocation. Megaprojects include nationally significant transportation infrastructures that have become functionally obsolete or have exceeded their design life and require large investments to bring them back to good condition.

A megaproject’s cost can range from $25 million to replace a bridge up to nearly $1 billion to modernize a road system for safety and current standards. The benefits of improving the NPS aging transportation infrastructure are far-reaching and opportunities to improve and modernize large park transportation facilities require partnering with many stakeholders and government entities.

Still not sure what we mean? Check out this list of 10 recent park transportation megaprojects.

Denali National Park, AK

Denali National Park, AK

The 92-mile long Denali Park Road in Denali National Park takes you through scenic vistas and prime wildlife viewing areas. It is also the only road in the 6-million-acre park. The first 15 miles of the road is paved and in dire need of reconstruction. Thousands of people travel through this impressive drive each year and have caused the road to quickly begin to deteriorate. This 2016 project helped provide safe year-round vehicle access by addressing the failing roadway, enhancing distance vista viewing opportunities, decreasing congestion, and eliminating traffic and pedestrian conflicts.

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC & VA

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC & VA

The construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1934 and road conditions have deteriorated significantly. Built with the purpose of providing opportunities to enjoy the scenic beauty of the southern Appalachian Mountains, the nearly 50 million visitors each year have been deteriorating the pavement conditions of the road. Because of limited funding, only 15 miles of the 469 miles undergo pavement on average each year. The result is that some sections of the parkway go without repaving for more than 30 years. This project has been an ongoing priority for the park service since 2016.

Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Deterioration of roadways and bridges along multiple routes on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park, as well as increasing intensity of White River storm flows, are threatening the public’s continued access to this unique area. Rehabilitation work is needed to ensure ongoing use of the roads, which is vital to park operations, the local economy, and to visitor use and enjoyment. This project includes the rehabilitation of the 15.4 miles of the Sunrise Road, a breathtaking scenic road of Mount Rainier that takes you to an elevation of 6,400 feet.

Natchez Trace Parkway, AL, MS, & TN

Natchez Trace Parkway, AL, MS, & TN

The scenic 444-mile route between Natchez, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee traces the early pathways of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indian tribes. In the early 2000s, a Multi-Use Trail Feasibility Study was prepared by the Federal Highway Administration to examine the feasibility of constructing multi-use trails parallel to the Natchez Trace Parkway motor road. The study recommended that three sections
along the Parkway should have a parallel trail because of traffic volumes, accident data, and national recreational trends. Many sections of multi-use trail have been constructed but there are a few parts yet to be completed.

George Washington Memorial Parkway, VA, D.C., & MD

George Washington Memorial Parkway, VA, D.C., & MD

The Arlington Memorial Bridge is one of the only five bridges connecting Virginia and the District of Columbia across the Potomac River. Constructed in 1932, the bridge has finally reached the end of its design life. Repairs have been performed gradually throughout the years but its quick degradation requires extensive rehabilitation to include full replacement of its center span. As of April 2020, construction and bridge closures are ongoing as the project continues to move forward.

Isle Royale National Park, MI

Isle Royale National Park, MI

Water-based transportation is the primary mode of transportation to and from Isle Royale National Park and it is important in order to maintain its wilderness environment. Currently, the Ranger III transports visitors, employees, and everything needed to operate the park and support the park visitors. This vessel has been in continuous service for nearly 62 years and is now in need of replacement. As of April 2020, the Ranger III continues to be in operation and the first outbound trip of the year is scheduled for 6/30/20 from Houghton, MI.

Manassas National Battlefield, VA

Manassas National Battlefield, VA

Presently, the non-park-related local commuting vehicle traffic along US 29 and SR 234 in Virginia, which bisects the Manassas National Battlefield, has had negative impacts on the park for decades. The proposed alternative to relieve this issue includes the construction of the MANA Bypass. This project will reroute US 29 around the Manassas National Battlefield by constructing a nine-mile, four-lane bypass. Visitor experience and safety would be enhanced by this construction and without the heavy commuter and commercial truck traffic that run through the park, a more appropriate experience of the battlefield landscape that more closely resembles its historic appearance will be created.

Foothills Parkway, TN

Foothills Parkway, TN

The Foothills Parkway is one of the seven congressionally mandated scenic parkways in the country. The entire 72-mile parkway corridor is administered by Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it is the only remaining parkway yet to be fully completed. Only three of eight segments are open to the public, totaling 22.5 miles. The National Park Service, Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration have been seeking funding to pave and open an additional 16.1 miles known as Sections E and F. A portion of this project was completed in 2018 and the infamous “missing link” is no longer missing.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, NJ & PA

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, NJ & PA

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is among the most visited parks in the National Park System with an estimated visitation of 5.1 million visitors a year. With the high traffic the park welcomes, the safety and maintenance of the roads must be continuously addressed. Currently, the three main arterials within DEWA make up a significant portion of the park’s road system. Those include the Old mine Road, River Road, and US Route 209. All collectively referred to as the Arterial Loop Road. These three roads are historical and cultural landmarks of the region and they are all aging and deteriorating rapidly. This project would improve visitor safety by significantly reducing the total number of accidents, injuries, and deaths, and would minimize driver distractions due to rough road conditions.

Colonial National Historical Park, VA

Colonial National Historical Park, VA

The views along the Colonial Parkway continue to inspire, but the surface of the Parkway, built between 1931 and 1957, is rated “poor” for 87% of its 23 miles. The 50-year design life expired a generation ago for much of the Parkway. Built between 1931 and 1957, construction stopped and started due to numerous problems. Construction projects have continued to the present, with minor construction and repair projects documented in each decade following the 1950s. Today, the exposed aggregate concrete surface still reminds drivers of the dirt roads of a by-gone era. But the road, initially designed for leisure driving, is under constant assault. The Parkway has become an important local commuter route; the busiest sections carry 1.9 to 2.2 million vehicles per year. Major rehabilitation and reconstruction are essential to preserving this scenic and historic drive. There are currently major issues of surface drainage, drop inlets, and culverts that require repair, replacement, or enlargement at many locations throughout the parkway. Considerable preservation work is needed in an effort to save as much of the historic fabric as practical.

Photos: National Park Service