Friday, August 26, 2011

Once upon a time in the West, a WY Republican senator proposed a monorail for Yellowstone NP

Sao Paolo, Brazil, monorail -- this could have served
the Jackson to Old Faithful Inn route, if Sen
Malcolm Wallop had had his way.
Last week, I posted about the traffic congestion at I-25 and College Drive in Cheyenne. I suggested that there may be a solution in sight, as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that Cheyenne will receive a $400,000 grant to “reduce crashes” at the interchange.

In that post, I kidded around about monorails. I couldn’t resist. Fans of “The Simpsons” know the monorail song from the fifth series episode in which a Harold Hill-style huckster talks the gullible citizens of Springfield into an ill-fated monorail project.

They’re a joke. Except in Mumbai and Tokyo and Las Vegas and Moscow and Dusseldorf and Singapore where monorails move hundreds of thousands of people a day – and hardly any of the passengers break out in the monorail song. I’ve ridden the tourist monorails in Orlando and Seattle, and people-mover versions at DFW Airport and downtown Detroit.

I was shocked to discover that a Republican U.S. Senator once proposed a monorail for Yellowstone National Park. It was 1991 and people were in an uproar over traffic congestion and pollution at our major parks. Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Sheridan was no environmentalist. But he did think the National Park Service should investigate a YNP Monorail.

I find lots of archival references to Wallop’s proposal. WY PBS did a Main Street Wyoming interview with Wallop on the subject. The Monorail Society’s newsletter lists and summer 1991 story about Wallop’s proposal. But I didn’t have the time or research skills to ferret out the details.

I did find a June 2, 1991, article in the Baltimore Sun by Associate Editor Ernest B. Furgurson. He announced that he was about to set out on an exploration of the West’s national parks:
During the next few weeks, I plan to set foot on some of the most valuable land in America. It is valuable because it is undeveloped, and if there is a heaven it will stay that way. 
Environmentalists are not the only park lovers who see traffic as probably the most serious single problem. Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming, with whom they are often at odds, suggested this week that the National Park Service consider "futuristic" mass transport, such as monorails, to ease road crowding. 
His idea was immediately derided as a way to convert national parks into theme parks like Disneyland. But if even Mr. Wallop is willing to impose a slight inconvenience on the all-American motorist who wants to drive every foot of the way, there may be hope for change. 
Building monorail systems in Yellowstone, Yosemite and Denali (Mt. McKinley) parks seems at first glance too much of a project, sure to destroy terrain and mar views. But shuttle buses already are required at Denali, and available at other parks such as Yellowstone. At Yosemite, the park service is limiting the number of cars in the valley to 5,000 at a time.
This seems so long ago and far away. If a 2011 Republican senator proposed a monorail or light rail line to anywhere, he or she would be targeted by Luddite Tea Party conspiracy types who see all mass transportation as an international plot against suburban sprawl. These people have already made a stir in Casper where a few loud yet ill-informed citizens saw a zoning change as part of the nefarious UN Agenda 21 plot. Florida recently turned down millions for a high-speed rail line on its west coast. The Feds took the money and sent it to other rail projects in the northeast and California. In ten years, those blue state voters will be zipping along to the polls while commuters in Tampa and Orlando will spend election day in gridlocked traffic. They won’t be singing the monorail song. They will be singing the blues.

There’s no real reason for a Yellowstone monorail. It would be terribly expensive. Those big concrete tracks and stanchions would be a blight on the landscape. Yellowstone really only has horrible traffic two months of the year -- July and August. Many summer tourists are accommodated by shuttle and tour buses. Modern autos spew much less pollution. Besides, there’s just no way around the fact that we westerners love our cars. I do.

You never know, though. WY Sen. John Barrasso just might surprise everyone by suggesting national park monorails or light rail systems or even blimps. He’ll do anything to get an interview on Fox News.

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