By Justin Franz, 2-18-13
||Caption: U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, and Glacier National Park acting Superintendent Kym Hall leave a press conference at the Apgar Transit Center in West Glacier on Monday morning. LaHood was in Montana to announce the purchase of two new buses for the park's shuttle service. - Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon.
WEST GLACIER – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited Glacier National Park on Feb. 18 to announce the purchase of two new shuttle buses for the park. A $250,000 federal grant will pay for the new vehicles that will be delivered this year.
At the press conference, LaHood also stressed the need to invest in the country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges and high-speed rail. LaHood has served as President Barack Obama’s transportation secretary since 2009 and announced in January that he would be stepping down from that position this year.
“We are investing in America’s transportation system and there is no better place to do that than in the stunning scenery of Glacier National Park,” LaHood said inside the Apgar Transit Center. “These two new buses will make sure that transit inside the park is reliable and viable.”
The $250,000 grant was awarded to Glacier as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in the Parks program. The grant was one of 29 awarded this week totaling $12.5 million. Over the last three years, the program has provided $80 million to 134 projects across the country.
During the peak summer season, nearly 35,000 people and 13,000 cars visit Glacier National Park every day. The two new buses will be used as part of Glacier’s free shuttle service along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. According to acting Superintendent Kym Hall, the current bus fleet is older and prone to breakdowns.
The buses purchased with the transportation grant will not replace the park’s iconic Red Buses, Hall said. Recently, Glacier supporters raised concerns that some of the historic vehicles would be replaced as part of the upcoming concessions contract. After a series of newspaper stories and letters to the editor, the park announced it would be updating the terms of the contract to retain the entire fleet of buses.
“We see (the shuttles and Red Buses) as two different services and two different experiences,” Hall said.
Hall said in the future all of the park’s shuttle buses, which are also used by Flathead County’s Eagle Transit during the offseason, will need to be replaced. LaHood said having reliable and clean vehicles within the national park is important for both visitors and the environment.
“Transportation and getting people around the parks are a critical aspect of managing our national parks,” he said.
The outgoing transportation secretary briefly talked about the country’s need to invest in its infrastructure and some of the challenges his successor will face. LaHood said America once had one of the best transportation systems in the world, but today that is not the case.
“Frankly, America is one big pothole right now and we need to invest,” he said. “The debate will be how do we pay for all of the transportation we need.”
LaHood’s visit to Montana also marked the conclusion of a personal goal for the former Illinois congressman: to visit all 50 states. With a few inches of fresh snow on the ground, LaHood likened Glacier to “an absolutely perfect postcard.”
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