Mount Rainier National Park has been given the go-ahead to start rebuilding its Nisqually to Paradise road, perhaps as soon as this year.
Chris Lehnertz, Pacific West Region director of the National Park Service, announced his decision Dec. 21 on an environmental study of the road. He issued a decision a finding of no significant impact from the approximately $32 million project that’s proposed to upgrade the road that’s driven by about a million park visitors but hasn’t undergone any major renovations for 30 years or more.
The decision by Lehnertz permits the rehabilitation of 17.6 miles of roadway between the park’s Nisqually entrance near Ashford and the Paradise recreation area. According to park officials, the project will address the road’s deteriorating condition and safety concerns. They said the road is worn out by large volumes of traffic and the ravages of rain and snowfall. Structural and design deficiencies contribute to its condition.
Plans call for restoring the pavement, installing in-road, buried conduits and junction vaults for future electrical power and telecommunication upgrades, placing new culverts for drainage and streams. Care will be taken to protect nearby natural resources, officials said.
A formal environmental assessment that Lehnertz reviewed gave two alternatives regarding the Nisqually to Paradise road: Skip the proposed repairs, which would result in more deterioration of the road that has a steady stream of visitors much of the year, or go forward with upgrades that would take four years to complete. Park officials preferred the second option.
Many of the park’s approximately 1.5 million visitors per year drive on the wnding, scenic road to various campgrounds and other park attractions, including Paradise, one of the park’s most popular destinations with the Henry M. Jackson Visitors Center, Paradise Inn, and trails that take hikers into the mountain wilderness. The road begins at the Nisqually entrance.
The federal-funded road improvement project is expected be broken into two parts lasting two years each. The first, from the entrance to milepost 6.5, is scheduled to start as early as 2013-14 and could include reconstruction of a guardwall on the Ricksecker loop. The second phase of roadwork, picking up where the first left off, would start in 2015-16 and end at Paradise. It would include repaving the Paradise parking lots and Paradise Valley Road.
Park officials said the Nisqually to Paradise route has drainage problems that will continue to undermine the roadway’s condition unless they’re fixed. Also needing attention is the mainteanance of bridge and roadside embankments that require stabilizing.
Karen Thompson, an environmental protection specialist for the park, has said that drainage is an overarching issue in the project’s plans, and that decades have passed since the last major renovations of the road. Most of the previous work has been routine maintenance or emergency repairs.
Plans and other documents related to the project are available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/mora/. A printed copy of the environmental assessment can be requested by calling the park at (360) 569-6501.
Mount Rainier National Park, established in 1899, is the fifth-oldest national park in the U.S.
Nisqually to Paradise will be the second major road project for the park in as many years. Work began last year on Stevens Canyon Road and will continue in 2013. The two-year restoration project involves resurfacing the road and iimproving bridges, tunnels, culverts, guard walls, retaining walls, turnouts and the short Wonderland Trail section adjacent to Reflection Lake. The improvements are being made on two segments of the road, totaling 10 miles.