By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Travelers to Yellowstone National Park could see some delays on the drive from Cody to the park this year, thanks to a series of major road construction projects in Park County.
But experienced travelers probably will not be caught off-guard by the work, said a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
“I think we are very conditioned into the idea that we have to do road improvements in the summer, and it just doesn’t happen in Cody here,” said Cody Beers. “It happens all over the country in the summertime. So drivers, travelers, tourists, they’re used to it.”
The Wyoming Department of Transportation will have four major construction projects going on this summer in Park County, which will directly impact travel, Beers said – and that’s just this year.
“We’re going to be working our way down the North Fork (Highway between Cody and Yellowstone), over the next four or five years,” Beers told Cowboy State Daily. “We’ve got projects every year between Cody and Yellowstone.”
Of the four construction projects in Park County this summer, the project that will affect the most people is on a 10-mile stretch of highway just east of Yellowstone on U.S. Highway 14-16-20.
“It’s pavement work, we’re working to do some guardrail repairs and improvements, which starts next week, May 2, and then paving will begin about mid-June,” Beers said.
Beers said there will be some traffic delays early in the project, but they will be fairly short.
“There will be a pilot car leading vehicles through the project, because we’ll be working on half the road,” he said. “And there will be very short delays until we start paving in June, and then we could have 10- to 20-minute delays of traffic going back and forth to Yellowstone.”
According to WYDOT representatives, the last time this stretch of road was repaired was in 1997 and since the normal service life for pavement is about 20 years, it’s past time for maintenance on this stretch of road.
“We appreciate everyone’s patience, but these are pavement improvement projects that are designed to bring a road which is right on the edge of falling apart, back to a new state,” Beers said.
Work on the road into Yellowstone is set to begin Monday, May 2, and is anticipated to continue through August. But that’s not the only project that will cause delays for travelers taking in the views around Cody this summer.
“We’re also doing a slide project up on Chief Joseph (Highway) on this side of Dead Indian Pass,” Beers said, referring to an ongoing effort to stabilize Wyoming Highway 296 between Cody and the Beartooth Highway in Montana. “So there’s going to be some one-way traffic through that slide right where that big red hill is.”
Other projects include pavement rehabilitation on U.S. Highway 14A between Cody and Powell and a paving project near Meeteetse, Beers said.
“So there’s going to be some short-term delays around Cody,” Beers said.
Ryan Hauck, Executive Director for the Park County Travel Council, said that for residents, educating travelers about the best routes will be key to creating a positive experience for tourists in spite of construction delays.
“We just have to prepare to educate everyone that’s coming in, whether that is individuals, whether that’s our big motor coaches, international (travel) is starting to come back this year as well,” Hauck told Cowboy State Daily. “And then help them navigate through that. Best routes, maybe less popular areas, how to get to those areas.”
And it’s not just the east gate to Yellowstone, Hauck pointed out, that will see travel delays due to construction.
“Jackson is going to have it on their end as well,” he said, “and they have construction at their airport through June.”