Tom Clyde: Choked on our own success
January 2, 2015
So we just ticked over another year, and somehow everything is different and fresh. Across the land, millions of pounds will vanish from millions of waistlines. We will spend less, save more, be kinder, better people, and all will be right with the world. At least through the weekend.
It is customary to comment on the big news of the year gone by. Last week’s paper said biggest stories of 2014 in Park City were the PCMR/Talisker/Vail imbroglio; the Kimball Art Center’s decision to pack their pots and move rather than occupy a non-iconic building; the vandalism of the Banksy vandalism (really?); Solitude and Snowbird being sold in the ongoing game of Ski Resort Monopoly; and finally the construction industry roaring back to life.
In the County, because that’s a completely different world, the big stories were the Tesoro oil pipeline; County Manager Bob Jasper retiring after a successful initiation of the manger form of government; an election that most of you ignored; completion of the golf course at the Canyons after all these years; and another fire at Rockport.
I’m not sure what else I would have put on the list. In the end, there was only one story, and that is Vail’s purchase of PCMR and the coming merger of PCMR and Canyons into the Largest Resort in the United States. We now live in a different place, without packing a single moving box. I’ve yet to find anybody willing to shed a tear over the planned demise of the Snow Hut restaurant. Several people with close ties to the place suggested Vail could raise big money by raffling off the rights to drive the bulldozer through it. Upgrading Motherlode to a detachable will be great. I never ski the King Con area, but putting a six-pack down there will certainly help with the traffic flow.
The proposed interconnect gondola seems to start in Siberia on the Canyons side of things, and ends in the worst bottleneck on the mountain on the PCMR side. I have to assume there are longer range plans that address both ends. So far, what is missing from the conversation is traffic. There is nary a word about parking. No mention of the traffic mess on both 224 and 248.
On Monday of last week, we saw the future. The combination of a successful holiday ski season, some snow on the roads, and the added complication of the Cottonwood canyons being restricted to 4x4s, delivered a picture of what I fear is the new normal. If you missed it, or are still stuck in it, there were reports that the exit ramp from I-80 at Kimball was backed up to the Outlet Mall. Highway 40’s off ramp was backed up at a dead stop to Home Depot, and just as far on the Heber side. 248 was backed up farther than my friend could see as he drove through.
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We skied Deer Valley from the Jordanelle side. We did our duty as Americans to arrive one to a car, but since he was coming from Kimball Junction and I was coming from the Heber direction, trying to carpool would have created more traffic rather than less as we backtracked. A neighbor had an appliance repair guy at her house, and he reported that it took his co-worker an hour and a half to get from Heber to Park City. It used to be 20 minutes. Somebody didn’t get their furnace fixed because the repairman was stuck in traffic. There are only so many hours in the day.
A three-mile long traffic jam, which is a good day on 248, would have about 600 cars stopped in it. At the American standard of one person per car, that’s about 10 buses packed to the gills. It would take another 10 to run the route in reverse to pick up the next load from the next 630 cars. So for the morning rush on 248, we probably need 20 buses, plus the parking lot where the cars would meet the bus. You could probably double that on 224. Swaner will lose some of its charm when striped as a parking lot. We were able to make a bus system work for the Olympics, but there’s no practical way to do it on a routine basis. It took hundreds of buses, acres of parking, and a ton of magic Olympic cash.
For Vail’s business deals here to make any sense, the bulk of the ski season has to have utilization levels we have typically only seen at the holidays. This week is the new normal. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only news story from the last year. The headline is, "Park City Chokes on Its Own Success."
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.