MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WY – The plan to have the Old Gardiner Road open by Oct. 15, 2022, has been changed to no later than Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, due in part to additional engineering and guardrail installation.
In a release, park officials said that Yellowstone National Park in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration has determined that the Old Gardiner Road (a limited-access road between Gardiner, Montana and Mammoth Hot Springs) will open to regular traffic no later than Nov. 1, 2022. The two-lane project will be extended up to two weeks to ensure more than 5,000 feet of guardrail are properly installed for traffic safety.
Additionally, Yellowstone asked the Federal Highway Administration to build a new ¼-mile approach road into Mammoth Hot Springs after the project was underway to avoid a 12-15 percent steep grade on the original road.
This new approach has required additional engineering and design to provide a safe road base to handle the 2,000-3,000 vehicles per day that enter the park from the North Entrance in Gardiner. Yellowstone has also asked the Federal Highway Administration to expand road widths in certain sections of the Old Gardiner Road to prevent restrictions.
"We have set incredibly aggressive time frames for these repairs and our contractors have worked at lightning speed to get this road safely reopened," said Superintendent Cam Sholly. "It's essential that we do not cut corners and we ensure the road meets required safety standards prior to opening. It's also essential that we finish the job correctly, so we avoid any problems going into next year."
The Old Gardiner Road was determined to be the best and only option to quickly reconnect Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner after the floods in mid-June. Originally established as an 1880s stagecoach route, the single-lane dirt road has been expanded to two lanes over its entire 4-mile length.
The new approach road coming into Mammoth Hot Springs is under construction. Paving is expected to begin the week of Oct. 1 and nearly 1 mile of guardrail will be installed between Oct. 10 and Oct. 20. If the Old Gardiner Road is completed prior to Nov. 1, the park will open it to public travel sooner.
The Northeast Entrance Road (Tower Junction to the Northeast Entrance in Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana) is expected to open as planned on Oct. 15 to regular traffic.
Yellowstone is coordinating with Montana and Wyoming and a 7-mile section of road between Cooke City and the Pilot Creek Trailhead (known locally as the plug) will be plowed, if necessary until the Old Gardiner Road is completed. This will ensure continued access to the communities of Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana.
Sholly said there are good reasons to continue upgrading the temporary road to turn it into the new permanent route.
“We’ve put twenty million dollars into this Old Gardiner Road already and, you know, there’s no going back on that. I think a fundamental question we need to ask is, do we really want to blow out another two lane in this park to Gardiner, right next to the two-lane we just created?”
Another consideration is the big cliffs looming over the old road.
“The last thing we want to do is build a viaduct through the canyon and have it imploded from up top. And, I think there’s some real value to consider restoring that canyon to its natural state,” said Sholly.
Over in the northeast part of the park, Sholly said the new roads are already being built to withstand any future flood event and while the new road sections are called temporary, the work is permanent in nature.
He said an environmental assessment of future road work on the northeast road was already underway when the flood struck. He said, now, the park may speed up improvements to any remaining vulnerable areas to match the work which has already been completed.
Once plans for replacement roads are finalized, several alternatives will be presented to the public. Sholly said he expects it to take 3 to 5 years to complete work on the permanent roads.
Interview with Cam Sholly on YNP road repairs: