Jasper National Park expands east gate entrance on Yellowhead Highway

WATCH: At peak times in the summer, traffic waiting to get through the gates into Jasper National Park can be backed up for kilometres. As Sarah Kraus reports, that's about to change.

The east gates to Jasper National Park are the area’s busiest access point, seeing around 900,000 vehicles come through each year and that can cause major backups on the highway just past Hinton, Alta. But that’s all about to change thanks to construction improvements.

“On a really busy day in the summer, we are putting between 4,000 and 6,000 cars through the two lanes of traffic,” explained Pamela Clark, the park’s visitor experience manager.

“Probably the biggest comment we get from visitors coming into the park is the lineups and the waiting time.”

It’s not just visitors either; about 40 per cent are just driving across the Yellowhead Highway en route to B.C., including thousands of semi-trucks.

For years, the Trans Canada Yellowhead Highway Association heard concerns from all of those travellers. It represents municipalities along the highway from Winnipeg, Man. to Haida Gwaii, B.C.

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“Either it’s tourists or it’s commercial traffic and I’m sitting here waiting and waiting – burning fuel where I could be actually on the road travelling,” said C.A.O. John Wojcicki.

“We just need to get from A to B.”

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The group decided to take action at its last annual meeting.

“We heard from not only Jasper, but also places like Valemount, Prince George and even in Edmonton saying we need to get that traffic moving more quickly and more efficiently. So we sent correspondence to the ministers – environment and transportation, federal – saying this is something we as a Western Canadian contingency encourage you to take a look at.”

Parks Canada acknowledged the issue too.

“Traffic can back up, it’s about a 20- to 30-minute wait. That’s our average wait time, which really isn’t an acceptable level of service for visitors coming into the park,” Clark explained.

“It’s a bit of a safety hazard when you have that much of a lineup on a highway.”

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She said when things back up, some drivers direct their frustration at Parks Canada staff, while others pull risky maneuvers.

“We’ve seen vehicles go around the gate and head down the opposing lane of traffic.”

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This spring, Parks Canada started a major construction project at the gates to add an additional kiosk lane, as well as a free-flowing bypass lane. Banff National Park has had a similar lane for years.

“It’s for visitors or travellers who are going through the park and not stopping, but it’s also for all those people that have an annual pass.”

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The construction is nearly complete and the bypass lane is expected to open soon.

“We have some paving left to do before the project is complete. There’s some landscaping and restoration work to continue as well,” project manager Ryan Hill said.

That’s music to the ears of Wojcicki.

“All those little pieces make traffic flow in Western Canada that much more efficient and that’s good for all the communities along the way.”