Increased Costs Prompt Review of Going-to-the-Sun Road Project

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Date: February 6, 2008
Contact: Amy Vanderbilt (NPS), 406-888-5838
Contact: Steve Moler (FHWA), 415-744-3103

WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Because of skyrocketing inflation in the construction sector, the National Park Service (NPS) at Glacier National Park and its partner agency, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), are reevaluating cost estimates and construction timelines for the Going-to-the-Sun Road (Sun Road) rehabilitation.

The Sun Road rehabilitation was originally estimated to cost somewhere between $140 and $170 million over a seven-to-eight-year construction schedule, according to the 2003 Going-to-the-Sun Road Rehabilitation Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement and NPS Record of Decision (FEIS/ROD). These earlier estimates assumed the project would receive full funding and there would be a four percent construction cost inflation rate.

According to the latest studies, the project is now estimated to cost between $240 million and $270 million over the next eight to 10 years if the project receives full funding. These increases are due almost entirely to steep jumps in construction costs, which jumped 19 percent in 2005 and 20 percent in 2006 nationwide as cited in the National Highway Construction and Maintenance Cost Indices, Federal Highway Administration report CR-2007-079. Since 1990, annual construction and maintenance costs typically have fluctuated a few percentage points. However, since a 2004 Sun Road sequencing study was completed, the average cost of construction nationwide has increased by about 50 percent, according to Clara Conner, division engineer for FHWA’s Western Federal Lands Highway Division.

“Since embarking on Sun Road master planning, environmental compliance and public involvement in the late 1990s about how best to rebuild the Sun Road, NPS and FHWA managers have noted that any rehabilitation timelines would be contingent on funding,” said Acting Glacier National Park Superintendent Stephanie Dubois. “Thanks to the Montana congressional delegation, the FHWA and the NPS Park Roads and Parkways program, $82 million has been secured to-date for the Sun Road work. These funds cover Sun Road work through 2009. Given this unprecedented rise in construction costs, however, it is essential that we continue to strategize how to proceed in future years.”

One recent evaluation involved updating the project’s sequencing to address how best to complete high-priority construction phases on the more challenging alpine section in order to preserve this national treasure while minimizing impacts to the park and its visitors.

In April 2004, a joint NPS-FHWA team prepared a Sun Road rehabilitation sequencing plan, which detailed when and how all pieces of the rehabilitation puzzle would fit together to minimize traffic congestion and delays. Thesequencing strategy compiled all available data and identified construction constraints in terms of physical, climate, environmental and potential funding. For rehabilitation purposes, the full length of the Sun Road corridor was broken into eight individual segments identified as Phases VI through XIII. This sequencing strategy set forth the current plan and cost estimates for implementing the preferred rehabilitation alternative from the EIS. This strategy was the first document to identify the need to look into alternative construction methods and innovations to facilitate faster, more efficient and higher quality construction in a cost-effective manner.

“Given limited resources and double-digit increases in construction costs, we (the agencies) must determine how best to continue this important project. As part of our fiduciary responsibility, we must continue to assess and evaluate costs and determine the best course of action,” added Conner.

NPS and FHWA project managers met in December 2007 to discuss the impacts of increased construction costs, rising cost projections and brainstorm various cost-saving measures. Project managers are currently reviewing the results of the value engineering analysis that have been developed into draft alternatives for revised timelines, costsaving measures and work sequencing. Decisions regarding any changes will be announced when a course of action is determined.

Dubois said the interagency effort between the NPS and FHWA has not deviated from the goals and objectives set forth in the 2003 Going-to-the-Sun Road Rehabilitation Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision (FEIS/ROD). In addition, the agencies have implemented initiatives such as a free transit system to reduce traffic volume and to meet the 30-minutes total traffic delay requirement along with public outreach activities to inform the public about construction activities on the project. These services are all designed to minimize the disruption to park visitors.

“The joint NPS and FHWA team understands the significance of this project to Montanans and all Americans and also understands the importance of continuing to be good stewards of America’s treasures,” said Dubois. “The project team will continue to monitor and analyze future construction trends in order to provide timely and appropriate management guidance. The Sun Road is one of our great national treasures, and we will do everything possible to preserve this engineering marvel for the future.”

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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