The Rail Trail Highway? | ParkRecord.com

The Rail Trail Highway?

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

A high-ranking City Hall official this week held open the possibility that another entryway road could someday be built along the Rail Trail corridor, an idea that did not immediately garner much attention but one that would almost certainly become polarizing if discussions ever advance.

Kent Cashel, the No. 2 staffer in the Public Works Department, mentioned the idea during a wide-ranging discussion about public transit with the Park City Planning Commission. Cashel was not seeking detailed comments from the panel, and it did not appear that the most ambitious ideas, like building a new entryway road, had advanced beyond an idea.

Cashel told the Planning Commission the Rail Trail corridor has the "potential" to be considered in the long-range transportation plans. In an interview afterward, Cashel said the corridor is wide enough to hold the trail itself as well as a new road. He said in the interview, however, City Hall has not drafted plans to reconfigure the Rail Trail. Discussions could occur later, he said.

Talks about such a dramatic change to the Rail Trail would be highly controversial, with the likelihood of widespread opposition from trail enthusiasts and people who live nearby. They would conceivably be disgusted on numerous points, including the noise from a new road, the construction, the prospects of additional emissions in the neighborhood and the loss of the Rail Trail as it is today.

The Rail Trail stretches from Park City to a point close to Echo, following the historic route of a Union Pacific line. Partially paved, it is a popular trail that draws mountain bikers of all abilities and hikers.

But transportation officials remain perplexed as they continuously come up with ideas to reduce the congestion along the S.R. 248 entryway. There are oftentimes terrible backups during the morning commute as people who live in parts of the Snyderville Basin, the East Side of Summit County and Wasatch County head to work in Park City.

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Officials have already reconstructed a section of S.R. 248 along the entryway, but the backups have continued. There have been off-and-on discussions for years about traffic on the road, but there seems to be more urgency lately. Park City leaders do not want the backups to worsen, a scenario that could heighten the discontent.

Meanwhile, a giant park-and-ride parking lot has been built east of Park City just off S.R. 248. Cashel and others at City Hall envision directing drivers heading into Park City to the parking lot. They will then board buses into Park City, cutting the number of drivers on the road.

Others have spoken previously about making dramatic changes in order to reduce the congestion on S.R. 248, including a Park City architect who made bold statements earlier this year. Kurt von Puttkammer, an architect and urban designer who lives in Park Meadows, also looked at the Rail Trail corridor as a new transit route. The stretch of the Rail Trail that parallels the entryway would be turned into a new highway and a section of S.R. 248 there now would become a trail or open space under his idea.

Joe Kernan, a Park City Councilman, once suggested City Hall should consider building a tunnel along part of the route as an alternative for commuters.

Neither of the ideas advanced at the time.

Major changes along the Utah Department of Transportation-controlled corridor would require critical negotiations between City Hall and state transportation officials. There could be several years of talks before earthmoving begins.

In his talk with the Planning Commission on Wednesday, Cashel also spoke about the prospects of building a local light-rail system, saying it is unlikely one would be constructed. He said there are not enough people living in the Park City area or visiting Park City to justify the estimated $50 million it would cost to build a local light-rail system. Evan Russack, a Planning Commissioner, agreed with Cashel’s assertion.

Cashel said, though, the local bus system, which is anchored at the Old Town transit center and stretches through much of the West Side of Summit County, is evolving into what he calls a high-tech rapid transit system. He said such a system would offer frequent service, comfortable buses and quick rides.

The bus system remains the focus of local transit planners, and it has undergone a significant expansion since the 2002 Winter Olympic era that has brought buses from their traditional routes inside the Park City limits into neighborhoods throughout the Snyderville Basin. The number or riders has steadily risen over the years.

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