Close this search box.

The Road Less Traveled: Can well-informed visitors help ease congestion in gateway communities and near or within our National Park Roads?

(Article from WTI eNews April 2011)
As winter comes to a close and the days become longer, summer travelers begin looking for places to wander. Despite the recession, or maybe because of it, national parks stand poised to receive yet another summer of near record visitors. A National Park in the Colorado Rockies is investigating whether drivers with more information about their transportation options will change how they travel to and through the park, and ultimately, reduce traffic and delays on popular roads and have a better visitor experience. Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO) is a 400 square mile, mountainous park in northern Colorado, which attracts nearly three million visitors each year for hiking, camping, scenic drives, wildlife viewing and other recreational activities. In fact, the large number of visitors, especially during peak seasons, has led to serious congestion issues on certain corridors, including the Bear Lake Road Corridor that connects the gateway community of Estes Park with locations in the eastern part of the National Park.
Recently, ROMO received a major federal grant to develop a long-term congestion management plan for this corridor, including the deployment of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technologies. As a preliminary step, ROMO is also interested in deploying one ITS system right away.
“While developing a comprehensive ITS technology strategy will have the most long-term impact, sometimes getting one system up and running right away can help park and community managers see how technologies work and which ones might be the best choice for their facility,” said John Hannon, Management Specialist – Business Programs at ROMO.
In partnership with ROMO, FHWA/Federal Lands Highway Division, the city of Estes Park, and the Colorado Department of Transportation, WTI will assist with the implementation of a traveler information system serving visitors who approach the park on the east side (near Estes Park). The system will disseminate real-time messages to drivers, using technologies such as dynamic messages signs and Highway Advisory Radio. “Drivers who enter the Park may not be aware of all the public transportation options that are available, such as park and ride lots, shuttles, or even travel times during the day or week when there is generally less crowding,” said Steve Albert, WTI Director.
After the pilot system is implemented, WTI researchers will also conduct an evaluation to determine if technology is influencing visitor behavior, mode shift, peak spreading, air quality, and potentially, economic activity. As Albert explained, “At the end of the day, we need to know if and how drivers will act on the information they receive – if they know that a certain destination is less crowded later will act on the information they receive – if they know that a certain destination is less crowded later in the afternoon, will they change their travel plans?”
Efforts to reduce congestion have far-reaching benefits for visitors, the park facilities, and the surrounding region. “We’re excited about the long range potential of this project,” said Scott Zurn, Public Works Director for the Town of Estes Park; “if we can reduce over-crowding in gateway communities and on park roads, we can improve the quality of the experience for park visitors, preserve the natural resources of the area, and support regional tourism development and economic sustainability efforts.”