Increasing traffic causes problems for commuters
February 15, 2008
It’s not news to anyone that traffic has become a problem in Park City. During the past several years, with increasing business development and residential growth, many Park City employees say it’s difficult to make the commute from Salt Lake and Heber Valley every day.
"Horrible, horrible," said Aleece Sligar of San Francisco Design, who commutes to Park City from Salt Lake every day. "There are so many drivers on [S.R.] 248."
Lorrie Niessen, owner of 7 Sundaze of Park City tanning salon in the NoMa shopping district, said the traffic situation is out of control on Bonanza Drive.
"I think it’s terrible," Niessen said. "With the people leaving this complex, it’s a danger zone. You just have to shut your eyes and gun it and hope for the best."
Park City Mayor Dana Williams said the city is doing all it can do to alleviate the traffic problems in Park City. He emphasizes the city’s plans to make improvements on Bonanza Drive, including installing a new traffic light at the Iron Horse Drive and Bonanza intersection, as well as building a pedestrian tunnel running from City Park underneath Bonanza.
"We’re waiting to see what the recommendations from the Walkability Committee will be [before] we do sidewalks or tunnels," Williams said. "Crosswalks are major bottlenecks for traffic coming in."
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Kent Cashel, assistant public works director, talked about the city’s plan to construct the Park and Ride transit stop at Quinn’s Junction this year, where drivers can park each day and ride the bus into town. The new 750-stall parking lot should be built by December of this year, he said, and he hopes it will be a success. But he said the city is encouraging local businesses to take more of an initiative to address the problem.
"The traffic problems are created, in large part, by employees commuting into and out of town," Cashel said. "With that in mind, we have an opportunity to try to affect that without widening highways to eight lanes. Employees can carpool and [employers] can work with flexible schedules Transit won’t solve this alone. Businesses need to work with the city."
Williams agrees with Cashel that the city would like to see more businesses taking charge of the situation, including carpooling and leasing shuttles to take their employees to and from work every day.
But several business owners disagree with the way the city is handling the traffic issues and want to see more being done.
Ken Whipple, owner of Park City Jewelers, said, as a Heber resident, he is tired of sitting in traffic after getting off the exit to Park City from U.S. Highway 40 each morning. He said a large problem is the school pedestrian crossing right off the exit, where the stoplight stays green for only a minute after the crosswalk button is pushed. He said, when the button is not pushed, the light stays green for more than three minutes, which allows more traffic to move through.
"Sometimes, you’re stuck on the freeway, which is dangerous," Whipple said.
Whipple said the traffic problems are tough on his employees who commute to Park City from Salt Lake. One of his jewelers, he says, spends the night in the basement several nights per week in order to save himself the hassle of driving.
"He’s one of the best jewelers in the nation," Whipple said. "But, I’ve almost lost him because the commute is just a joke."
Whipple said he would like to see the city work with UTA to create a bus route from Salt Lake through Parley’s Canyon. He said the city has been talking about it for many years, and he thinks it is time to do something.
"Are we going to need affordable housing [in Park City] if we have a [bus route] to Park City?" Whipple asked. "We have a terrible time paying employees here."
Aaron Wells from Nordas snowboard shop at Redstone Towne Center, said he agrees that a UTA bus route from Salt Lake to Park City is a good idea.
"It would be sweet if they could run a bus from Salt Lake City to Park City," Wells said. "There are so many people that commute either way."
However, city officials do not agree that a UTA bus route to and from Park City is feasible. Both the mayor and Cashel said, because Park City is not in UTA’s service area, it is difficult to work with the transit company to create a bus route to Summit County.
"We have our own area where we tax in order to provide service for our system," Cashel said. "Lying between us is 30 miles of nothing, so we have to work through those details of who pays for it and where the service goes [and] what the hours would be. It just takes time to get this in place."
Cashel and Williams also said they don’t believe a route to and from Salt Lake will be used by enough commuters.
"We’re working with UTA, [but] even UTA and we are not completely convinced [there will be riders]," Cashel said.
Cashel said the city government also does not want to take business away from the local transportation companies that drive people up and down Parley’s Canyon every day.
"A private sector company might better serve this," Cashel said. "One thing we have here in town is a strong transportation industry that’s serving the Salt Lake Valley."
Last year, Cashel and Williams explained, the local transportation company, All Resorts Express, which purchased Lewis Stage Coaches in Park City awhile back, launched a shuttle program that ran up and down Parley’s Canyon and to Heber Valley for Park City employees to use.
Cashel said the local transportation company canceled the route to Salt Lake after they tested it last year because not enough people were riding it.
"[All Resorts Express] ran it a good part of the winter, and the city stepped up and bought seats on there, but not many people rode it," Cashel said of the shuttle system. "They rode one to Heber and that’s been successful, and they continue to run that."
Williams said that is a big reason the city has not made a strong push for a UTA bus route to Park City from Salt Lake, regardless of the traffic issues.
"That’s one of the issues, it’s a matter of them feeling confident that they would have enough riders," William said of UTA.
The mayor said he his hoping the new Park and Ride system at Quinn’s Junction will alleviate a chunk of the traffic problems in town. Until then, he said, the city will attempt to devise a strategy with UTA if and when the need arises, but it will not be any time soon.
"If there was some type of park and ride at mouth of [Parley’s] Canyon, where people could park, like they have for Cottonwood Canyon, where you could park at the bottom and take a shuttle up, that has a larger chance of having ridership," Williams said. "But, where at [the bottom of Parley’s] Canyon would you have a park and ride?"
Cashel encourages Parkites to use the Park City Transit System as much as possible. He said it continues to gain more ridership each year and will keep the roads more clear in town.
"Our transit system is making a major impact already," Cashel said. "It hauled 2 million passengers last year [and] we’re seeing an annual growth rate in ridership by 10 percent over past three to four years."
While the city is tapping into its various methods of alleviating traffic, Park City employees are fending for themselves while the crowds move in and out of town each day. And a lot of employees said they are not too happy about it.
"Park City is supposed to be a tree-hugger place," Whipple said. "This is the first season we’ve gotten that haze [of pollution] in the skies Who’s making money off this problem?"
For more information about Park City Transportation, visit http://www.parkcity.org/citydepartments/transportation/index.html.