Transportation in National Parks

If you’ve ever driven along the Blue Ridge Parkway, hopped on a shuttle along the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier, taken the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, or hiked along the Half Dome Trail in Yosemite, you’ve experienced some of the wide variety of transportation infrastructure found in our national parks.

What’s “transportation infrastructure”? It’s the roads, bridges, tunnels, and trails that allow you to access the treasures in our national parks with your car, bike, or feet. And it’s also the trolleys, shuttles, ferries, and other public transportation options that give you access to national parks when you decide to leave your car behind.

In fact, the National Park Service transportation system includes:

  • 5,500 miles of publicly accessible paved roads
  • 4,100 miles of publicly accessible unpaved roads
  • 1,442 publicly accessible bridges
  • 63 publicly accessible tunnels
  • 147 buses, ferries, and other alternative transportation systems
  • 17,872 miles of trails

Roads, bridges, and transit are integral parts of the national park experience. However, they are also facing the challenge that the system as a whole is facing – lack of funding to maintain them. In 2014, the deferred transportation maintenance deficit is more than $6 billion, over half of the $11.5 billion total deferred maintenance backlog faced by the National Park Service.

Deferred maintenance of park transportation systems is affecting park visitors in very real ways. Of the over 9,000 miles of park roads, 40 percent are in poor to fair condition, as are 77 percent of parking areas. Bridges built in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s are aging and will require increasingly greater funds to maintain and reconstruct.

Traditionally, the building, operation, maintenance, and improvement of the national park transportation system has been supported with funds from the Highway Trust Fund. The national parks are currently receiving $240 million from that fund but the National Park Service estimates it really needs closer to $970 million annually to adequately maintain, improve, and complete its roads, bridges, trails, and transit systems.

The federal transportation law, MAP-21, was due to expire on Sept. 30, 2014, but Congress has temporarily extended the law through July 2015. In March, the Administration released its GROW AMERICA proposal, which is disappointing because it eliminates the guaranteed funding for park transportation projects. In June, the Senate introduced the DRIVE Act.  While the DRIVE Act fails to increase the dedicated funding for transportation needs in our national parks, it does authorize a potentially significant increase for federal land road projects over six years. However, there are a number of restrictions on the use of the funds that concern NPCA. NPCA continues to active work with our allies to ensure the roads, bridges, trails, and transit in our national parks get the funding they need and deserve.

Learn more about the transportation needs and funding opportunities in our national parks:


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