Iconic Bryce Canyon gateway tunnels in need of a makeover

By LEE Dlogo_sltrib_blackAVIDSON | The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Oct 14 2016 03:21PM • Last Updated Oct 17 2016 02:34 pm

Red Canyon » $2.5 million approved for repairs on 2 arches.

Scenic State Road 12 passes through two short, redrock arch tunnels in Red Canyon that for 90 years have served as the unofficial gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park. It turns out they aren’t quite tough as rocks.

The Utah Transportation Commission on Friday approved spending $2.5 million to repair some cracking and flaking off of the rock, and to replace some failing “shotcrete” lining.

The Utah Department of Transportation “believes it to be extremely important to preserve and rehabilitate such historic assets along with the foremost responsibility of protecting the public,” said Carmen Swanwick, the agency’s chief structural engineer.

She notes the road was added to the state highway system in 1914, and required tunneling through two rock formations — creating the two short arch tunnels.


Ceremonies to open the newly authorized Bryce Canyon National Park, which was originally called Utah National Park, occurred in front of one of the arches in 1925.

A highway marker at the tunnels now says, “Ever since that momentous celebration the Red Canyon tunnels have served as a magical entrance to Red and Bryce canyons.”

The short tunnels are technically part of the state’s bridge inventory and are inspected regularly.

Swanwick said inspections show a shotcrete lining, made of reinforced concrete, inside the tunnels has been deteriorating and UDOT will now “use bridge funds to rehabilitate the arch tunnels by removing the old shotcrete lining, stabilizing the underlying rock arch and construct a new reinforced shotcrete lining.

“This work will provide additional service life to the arch tunnels,” she said, “and protect the integrity of such a beautiful and historic and scenic highway.”