Hickenlooper Asks Feds if State Can Reopen Federal Highway

This reminded me that the Park Service can charge for you to access a federal highway, Trail Ridge Road. So when the Park closes you can’t drive the road.

Had to call CDOT, and found this out. It’s always been interesting to me that the Park Service can charge for people to “simply drive the road.” Of course, it’s different legislation, but still seems odd. IMHO.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is vowing to do everything he can to save Estes Park from a second economic hit, even if that means staffing part of Rocky Mountain National Park with state employees.

First it was the devastating floods that hit Estes Park and the surrounding roads, but now it’s the government shutdown that threatens to sink some small businesses for good.

Trail Ridge Road through the RNMP is one of the more popular routes to Estes Park. Since the park is closed, Trail Ridge is closed, cutting Estes Park off from the Front Range and tourists.

Wednesday afternoon. Sen. Michael Bennet sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that Trail Ridge road through the RMNP be reopened.

“Estes Park is in the midst of a massive recovery and rebuilding effort following the historic flooding that Colorado experienced early last month,” Bennet wrote. “Reopening Trail Ridge Road, if only for a few weeks, would help that effort.”

and also from Hickenlooper..

“I have to talk to the department of transportation and I have to talk to the department of public safety, but I know those guys, they work for me, so they kind of have to say yes and they will,” Hickenlooper said. “We don’t have to open the whole park up. We just have to have Trail Ridge Road open.”

8 Comments

  1. I believe that whether the Park Service can charge for the road or not depends on whether the road was there before the park or not.

    Trail Ridge Road was built directly by the NPS, did not exist before Rocky Mountain National Park existed and is indisputably an agency right-of-way. On the other hand, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was made up of purchased land and does not charge an entrance fee because the roads predate the park — they are NPS-maintained, but have to be maintained as public thoroughfares.

    The Tioga Pass Road sort-of predates the park (it was originally a wagon road built by mining interests in the 1870s) but the road was purchased, lock stock and barrel, by the NPS and completely rebuilt/realigned. Ordinarily, you can’t traverse Tioga without paying.

  2. Thanks for the helpful info. But the NPS is still part of the US Government, so you could argue that “we” purchased it and ought to be able to drive on it. I think the Tioga approach (ordinarily pay, but not when furloughed folks are not around) makes more sense than the Trail Ridge approach.

  3. But the NPS is still part of the US Government, so you could argue that “we” purchased it and ought to be able to drive on it.

    I don’t really think this argument makes sense, though. Hoover Dam is part of the US government, but would anyone argue that that gives everyone the right to roam around the inside of the dam unmonitored? Edwards Air Force Base is part of the US government, but would anyone argue that that gives everyone the right to check out the secret test facilities and experimental airplanes? The NPS has a specific legal mission that it must carry out.

    My guess is that the road opening depends on whether or not the park thinks they have sufficient law enforcement, emergency and maintenance staff available to maintain and patrol the road for public traffic. From the articles I’ve read, Yosemite has managed to retain 130 “exempt” law enforcement, fire/EMS and maintenance workers, largely because there is a significant resident population inside the park who have to be supported. How many “exempt” folks does RMNP have?

    • I don’t think the comparison with Hoover Dam and Edwards is quite right. Generally people can drive around on roads and walk around in parks. Not so for security reasons at HD and EAFB. How much “maintaining and patrolling” do you need for a highway? Right now it could be argued that Trail Ridge Road is more critical to the economy and health and safety of folks in Estes Park than Tioga Pass Road is to folks in California…maybe the bucks for patrolling could be transferred?

      Oh, well, hopefully Hick will be successful at getting the Administration to let our state folks do it.

    • Travis, I think you are making solid points here on the shutdown, including the lack of funding for these agencies in general. I wonder how much of the Fed Gov shutdown plan this time has to do with living in a post-Sept 11 world? I mean, in MT some of the USFWS and Bureau of Reclamation sites have huge damns. You can bet since Sept 11th these agencies have prepared for terrorists attacks on these damns. So, with the Fed Gov shutdown it might very well be prudent to shut down these sites to keep everyone out, especially with no rangers, law enforcement, etc.

      In MT, some on the right are making a big deal that some federal public lands are “closed” to hunting during the shutdown. Of course, USFS lands, BLM lands are still open to hunting or whatever. I did a quick analysis (which was tough since so many Fed agency websites are down) and something like 95%+ of all Fed Gov land in MT is still open to the public, including hunting.

      P.S. This was making the rounds on twitter and such:

      SHUTDOWN DAYS:
      Ford: 10
      Carter: 57
      Reagan: 14
      Bush-1: 3
      Clinton: 26
      Bush-2: 0
      Obama: 10+

  4. I just posted a related article as a separate thread: “Jewell may allow some national parks to reopen with state, private funds,” from Greenwire today.

    “Responding to the economic impacts that the park closures are having on many communities and local businesses, Secretary Jewell will consider agreements with governors who indicate an interest and ability to fully fund National Park Service personnel to re-open national parks in their states,” Interior spokesman Blake Androff said in a statement. “The Interior Department will begin conversations about how to proceed as expeditiously as current limited resources allow.”

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