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Going to the Sun Road won't open before June 18

Hungry Horse News | June 12, 2010 9:00 PM

The Going-to-the-Sun Road isn't getting any younger and Old Man Winter keeps having its way with it.

Over the winter an avalanche smacked the highway in a chute below the Triple Arches and about 100 feet of historic wall, built in the 1930s, went tumbling down the gully.

Fortunately the damage is in a section of the highway due for reconstruction this summer, noted road foreman Stan Stahr. The damage isn't severe enough to delay the opening of the highway, but it does illustrate the constant concern with avalanches.

Every season, the road gets bombarded with snow and rock from above.

Last year, a massive avalanche damaged more than 200 feet of the road, including 95 feet of wall that had been reconstructed just a season before.

The road needed about $500,000 in repairs and when they were made, the park opted to use large boulders rather than rebuild the wall. The cost of replacing rock wall on the Sun Road is about $1,300 a foot, Federal Highway Administration officials have noted in the past.

The section that was damaged this year likely won't get a new wall, either, Stahr noted. They'll probably put in a removable wooden rail.

Glacier has gone to wooden removable rails on many sections of the highway in recent years. The most notable is at Haystack Creek, where most of the rail is now wood timbers that crews remove each fall.

Avalanches have also been a concern for plow crews this spring, though nothing out of the ordinary, park officials noted in a media trip up the highway last week.

This year crews have had to re-plow through slides on several different occasions, as late spring storms have hit the park. Last Thursday they were re-plowing a section just below Rimrocks where a slide had come down a few days earlier.

The entire length of the road won't open any sooner than June 18, because construction crews are allowed the full width of the road during the spring and fall shoulder seasons.

Earlier this spring crews worked on repairs at lower sections of the highway between Avalanche Creek and the West Side Tunnel. They were also beginning to work at higher elevation near Triple Arches and at Siyeh Bend.

If the weather holds, plows could be at or near Logan Pass by week's end on the west side. The wet weather pattern is expected to persist, but the snow associated with it has only been falling at the highest elevations. At Logan Pass last week, for example, most of the precipitation was rain, though there was a little wet snow mixed in.

Hikers and bikers are currently allowed a wide berth of the highway. The hiker-biker closure is at the Bird Woman Overlook when crews are working. When they aren't, there are no west side restrictions.

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