ST. GEORGE — Construction on the redesign of Zion National Park’s southern entrance began this week with the expectation it will help visitors get into the park faster.
Work began Tuesday and will include the widening of the roadway to accommodate new lanes, the construction of additional fee booths, traffic islands and an employee parking area. The project is expected to carry on through April next year.
According to the first phase of the traffic control plan for the project detailed in an email from the town of Springdale, work crews will primarily be clearing and grubbing on both sides of the road and doing earthwork to expand the roadway for incoming and outgoing lanes.
Once that is complete, paving will be done to move both incoming and outgoing lanes to the west side of the fee stations which is where it will stay for the duration of the construction.
The redesign of the southern entrance has been in the works since 2016 as increasing visitation to the park began to result in long lines of cars waiting to get into the park.
According to the National Park Service, on the 10th-busiest day in 2016, the South Entrance Station had a demand of 324 vehicles per hour. The original fee station configuration only allowed for approximately 194 vehicles per hour to be processed.
The congestion caused by the wait times created a line back-up of around a quarter-mile to a half-mile long into Springdale, according to the park service.
Traffic on weekends and holidays would create the worst congestion with visitors waiting up to an hour to get into the park. This caused a sense of frustration among visitors, park officials said, as well as extensive exhaust emissions from vehicles.
The safety of the park’s rangers was also jeopardized as they had to walk through the backed up vehicle queue to help move traffic along.
Just one additional visitor entry lane would increase the number of vehicles that can be processed by 50%, according to a 2016 traffic study by the Utah Department of Transportation. This, according to the park service, would fully accommodate park entry demands.
In early 2018, it was announced by the park service that public comment was being sought regarding plans for the reconstruction of the south entrance. After an additional comment period during the summer, an environmental assessment of the proposed project determined it would not have a significant impact on the scientific, cultural, historical or environmental characteristics of the area.
“We look forward to implementing this project to enhance visitor service and provide for employee safety in this area of concentrated automobile traffic,” Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a 2018 press release.
The plan that was settled on for the project, called “Alternative B,” involves the creation of three entry lanes accompanied by three fee stations, along with a lane exiting the park on one side of the roadway and an employees-only lane on the other.
A shade structure will be placed over the fee stations that will also have solar panels installed on top of it in order to create a renewable energy source.
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