Thousands of tourists once flocked to Yosemite National Park in buses by way of Highway 140. The Arch Rock entrance has served as the year-round, all-weather access to the park for buses -- until the Ferguson rock slide blocked the road in 2006 and the temporary bridges put in to bypass the slide were not built to accommodate vehicles longer than 28 feet.
In 2005, before the rock slide, 305 buses traveled through Arch Rock, carrying approximately 10,100 visitors. Compare that with 2006 and 2007 when Arch Rock saw 83 and 92 buses, carrying 743 and 912 visitors, respectively. That's a huge blow to an economy that depends so much on tourism.
For nearly two years, gateway communities such as Mariposa and El Portal have had to do without busloads of visitors. Now it looks like they will have to wait even longer; that is simply unacceptable.
Over the past 18 months, the California Department of Transportation has been working on a permanent solution to the Ferguson slide. Three options were devised, and Alternative S, a permanent viaduct around the rockslide and over the Merced River, was determined to be the quickest and cheapest.
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This was good news for all who benefit from the Arch Rock entrance. Unfortunately, that good news was short-lived because of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club muddying the waters.
The Sierra Club and their cohorts asked for a full environmental impact study on all three proposals and complained that the Caltrans environmental study was not thorough enough. They grumbled that Alternative S would clutter a pristine view of the Merced River. Their wish was granted Jan. 24, when a full environmental study was ordered in the Federal Registry.
An environmental study of all three options will delay the completion of the permanent solution, which Caltrans estimates could be finished by 2010 at best.
The Sierra Club would rather build a dangerous and expensive rock shed that could collapse in the event of another rockslide similar to Ferguson, or a tunnel through the mountain, which would cost at least twice what
Alternative S would cost and could take twice as long to complete. They complain that river rafters might see a supporting bridge pillar on the bank of the Merced River as they go floating by. Heaven forbid!
Environmental groups are hoping to buy more time to file lawsuits against the state, citing such laws as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, with the intention of tangling up the entire project in courts for years and keeping buses out of Yosemite even longer.
Of course, the environmentalists don't care about the loss of tourism to the park or the gateway communities. The Sierra Club is interested only in obstructing access to national parks so they can have the parks to themselves.
The environmentalists' primary objection to Alternative S reeks of typical environmental elitism, ignoring the modern realities facing our public lands. National parks belong to the people of the United States and should be as accessible as possible to their owners. We cannot let radical environmentalists hijack access to our parks.
Because of these forced delays, we need redesigned temporary bridges that will accommodate vehicles longer than 28 feet until the permanent solution is finished.
While we are all forced to wait on a permanent fix, the gateway communities need to rejuvenate their lost economic revenue. Yosemite needs a way to increase the number of visitors to the park and easy access for their large maintenance vehicles. Finally, the American people deserve the ability to experience the majesty that is the crown jewel of our national park system.
All of these goals would be made possible by making the current temporary bridges bus accessible and moving quickly on a cost-effective permanent structure.
Radanovich represents the 19th Congressional District.
A Republican, he lives in Mariposa.