SPRINGDALE, Washington County — Zion National Park's shuttles are getting an electric boost.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, through its Nationally Significant Lands and Tribal Program, recently granted the park about $33.4 million to complete funding for the park to replace its propane-powered shuttle bus fleet with 26 new battery-electric transit shuttle buses.
Crews will also add 27 new charging stations as part of the project, which is already underway. Park officials said crews already completed engineering and service connections, and the first phase of electric charging stations is expected to be installed this year. The new buses are expected to arrive "periodically" over the next few years.
The park also received contributions from the National Park Service, Washington and Iron counties and the nonprofit Zion National Park Forever Project.
"This project has universal and bipartisan support from local, state, and federal elected officials and demonstrates the NPS commitment on finding collaborative solutions for Zion's visitors and neighboring communities," National Park Service Deputy Director Shawn Benge said in a statement.
The Zion Canyon Transportation System shuttles operate in a loop throughout the park and Springdale just outside of park boundaries. Officials said that over 6 million passengers used the service in 2019 — the last full year uninterrupted by COVID-19.
The current fleet of 30 propane-powered buses — the first fleet in the system's history — were added in 2000 and began to deteriorate with age and use, according to Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh. The new fleet will be quieter and produce no emissions.
Sen. Mitt Romney, Rep. Chris Stewart and Gov. Spencer Cox were among Utah leaders and representatives that praised the grant.
"These funds to modernize Zion's transportation system will benefit our visitors and the rural economies who depend on those visitors," the governor said in a statement Tuesday. "Additionally, this new electric bus system will better serve the sensitive ecosystem of Zion, preserving its beauty for future generations."
The grant from the Nationally Significant Lands and Tribal Program was one of two awarded so far from the 2020 fiscal year. It also awarded a little over $40 million to the Marine Tribal Transportation and Shepard Point Oil Spill Response Facility in Alaska for a highway extension, a deep-draft dock, a small boat launch ramp and facility upgrades in the state.
It also awarded nearly $48 million in 2019 for improvements to be made at state Routes 162 and 262 — important routes for Navajo Nation residents in southeastern Utah. The highway are also important for people visiting Bears Ears, Four Corners and Hovenweep national monuments.