Exclusive: $25 Million Beartooth Highway “Final Reconstruction Project” Complete
Written by Andrew-Rossi on September 23, 2022
Several state and federal agencies collaborated to complete the multi-million dollar Beartooth Highway project, which will improve the safety, environmental impact, and overall experience of one of the main roads to Yellowstone National Park.
It was a cold and cloudy day as people gathered at a newly constructed scenic pullout for the Sept. 22 ribbon-cutting ceremony of the “final reconstruction project” on the Beartooth Highway. Less than two years ago, the pullout didn’t exist.
This accomplishment is only one of many that brought personnel from W.Y.D.O.T., Yellowstone National Park, the Central Federal Lands Highway Division, and many other state and federal agencies to U.S. 212. After two quick years and $25 million, the most significant investment in the Beartooth Highway in many years has concluded.
“A road like this would never be built today,” said W.Y.D.O.T. Public Relations Specialist Cody Beers. He was referencing the difficulty of building such a highway at high altitudes and its tremendous environmental impact. Construction of the Beartooth Highway began in 1930 and finished eight years later.
“Taking a drive through the mountains is a commitment,” Beers said. “Just like the Beartooth Highway itself.”
The goal of the Beartooth Highway reconstruction project is improvement – for travelers, maintenance, and wildlife.
W.Y.D.O.T. Director Luke Renner was the first to speak at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Most of his comments were praise for the National Park Service and the Central Federal Lands Highway Division, among the many other agencies that collaborated to make the project possible.
Renner emphasized how each agency contributed funds to the reconstruction project—W.Y.D.O.T. itself committed $5 million. Without that collaboration, the improvements would still be ideas on paper.
“To go far, you go together,” Renner said.
Yellowstone superintendent Cam Sholly also spoke at the ceremony, thanking W.Y.D.O.T. and the Federal Highways Administration, commending the agencies for their finished and ongoing work with Yellowstone.
For Sholly, the ongoing Yellowstone roadwork and the completed Beartooth Highway project are a reminder of the importance of partnership. Specifically, the importance of establishing these essential relationships before one needs them.
W.Y.D.O.T. and the Federal Highways Administration (of which the Central Federal Lands Highway Division is a part) are committing personnel and resources to reconstruct Yellowstone’s roads to the North and Northeast Entrance. Without their support, the stunningly quick task of restoring access to both entrances—expected to be finished by October—would be impossible.
As Yellowstone recuperates from “the most devastating natural disaster in the park’s history,” Sholly said, “I sleep well knowing that W.Y.D.O.T. is there.”
The completed “final reconstruction project” includes a 420-foot bridge, new scenic pullouts, and better construction for more reasonable maintenance.
Curtis Scott, Chief of Engineering of the Federal Lands Highway Division, discussed the priorities of the 15-month project. This opening was especially vindicating for him and his staff. Their team first conceptualized the 420-f00t Beartooth Ravine Bridge over two decades before construction began.
The entire project was designed to meet several needs at once—improving the highway’s alignment to lessen or eliminate dangerous curves, widening the road across the bridge by adding shoulders and pullouts, and allowing under—structure crossing routes for grizzly bears and other animals.
Costs have been covered through the cooperation of several agencies:
- $16.6 million from a 2017 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (T.I.G.E.R.) grant.
- $9.3 million from W.Y.D.O.T. federal funds.
- $1 million from Yellowstone National Park.
The rest of the funding was reallocated from closed-out federal lands projects.
Scott said his team was “threading the needle” as they designed and constructed the immense undertaking. He praised Missouri River Contractors of Helena, Montana—the company that spent two years completing the massive undertaking.
The finished project ensures the Beartooth Highway—”America’s Most Beautiful Drive“—will continue to thrill tourists as they enter the wilderness of the Greater Yellowstone region.
There is some minor work to finish. Seeding still needs to occur, and guardrails on either end of the Beartooth Ravine Bridge will be installed in Spring 2023. Nevertheless, the bulk of the work has been finished.
By the time ceremonial remarks ended, the clouds parted and sunlight on the completed Beartooth Ravine Bridge. That section of U.S. 212 was closed for thirty minutes so the people who made the project possible could take in the views and admire their hard work.
After two years, the “final reconstruction” of the Beartooth Highway is finished.
*This story was a collaboration between Andrew Rossi and Caleb Nelson