Death Valley National Park needs quicker fix for roads

It doesn’t rain much at Death Valley National Park — less than 2 inches a year on average, hence the name of the popular tourist destination. And when it does rain, it often creates havoc on the few roads that allow visitors access to this national park.

Yet when a good gully washer comes along, it still can take months to make these important roads passable. Such is the case following a July 28 storm. The Review-Journal’s Henry Brean reported flooding caused major damage to Badwater Road between Badwater Basin and California state Route 127. A 1,000-foot section of pavement was completely washed away, with mud and debris covering 20 miles of road.

Badwater Road is the only paved route through the southern end of Death Valley. Its extended closure will cause long detours for visitors coming from that direction. Mr. Brean noted it could be months before Badwater Road reopens, and that even at that point, several dirt roads currently closed by the flooding still could be off-limits.

Death Valley’s economy hinges on tourist access to the normally arid destination that features Badwater Basin, the lowest point below sea level in the Northern Hemisphere. The park is incredibly unique, drawing people from all over the world. Limiting their access is not only an inconvenience, but a major blow to the region’s tourism economy.

Recognizing that, how is it that when a big storm rolls in, the park is crippled for months?

The National Park Service is certainly aware these storms can and do happen — a 2004 storm killed two people and destroyed California state Route 190, the fastest route between Death Valley and Las Vegas, and it took $10 million and a whopping eight months to reopen . The park service has road updates on the monument’s website and even on its Facebook page, obviously recognizing the flooding threat, which is about the only possible way a road could be left impassable.

The inability of the Park Service to more efficiently manage Badwater Road and others in the park is stunning, highlighting a need to change procedures. It shouldn’t take congressional action to create a more responsive road repair program. There’s too much at stake, for overly inconvenienced tourists and all those who make a living on Death Valley’s tourist economy.

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