Tom Clyde: Traffic fallout meetings
January 9, 2015
The exhaust fumes from the mother of all traffic jams have finally cleared. Traffic was gridlocked from Kimball Junction to Silver Lake Lodge. For hours. There were no specific causes to point at. There wasn’t a flaming wreck that blocked the roads. No Florida-style sinkholes swallowed vehicles into the earth. For all outward appearances, it was a pretty normal day. But things started going wrong early in the morning on that cold Monday, and just got worse as the day went on. By afternoon, when the ski resorts emptied out, and the commuters headed for home, it all fell apart.
There were some slightly extenuating circumstances. It had snowed a little bit. This is a ski town, and it’s not reasonable for a pretty feeble little snow storm to bring us to our collective knees. Snowy roads ought to be a normal condition here. Our traffic that day was increased by restrictions in the Cottonwood canyons, which opened a little late and were limited to four-wheel-drive vehicles. There’s no mechanism that measures how many people who would ordinarily be skiing Alta get diverted here, but we all know it happens. Suddenly there are hundreds of duct-taped gloves at Deer Valley. The holiday season was successful, and the town was full. The commuter traffic up and down the canyon is a constant, and has little to do with ski season.
So in some ways it was the perfect storm. Monday’s storm hit very close to morning-commute time, and there wasn’t a lot of time to get the roads cleared before the traffic hit. But it was a pathetic little storm, and by afternoon, things were cleared. The gridlock hit in the afternoon on roads that were wet, but not snow-packed. What happens if we start getting all-day storms that dump 12 to 18 inches at a whack? That used to be normal around here.
Traffic is bad most mornings. Some days I put a year’s worth of wear on my clutch between Highway 40 and Bonanza Drive. But it’s mostly an inconvenience, made all the more annoying by the fact that most of us moved here to escape that kind of traffic in the first place. Monday’s traffic mess was dangerous. It would have been impossible to get an ambulance or fire truck through the mess. A traffic jam like that is a very real threat to life and property. It’s not acceptable to just call it the new normal.
I guess it could have been worse. One of these days we will get a real snowstorm, and cannibalism will set in. You’d be surprised what you can cook on a hot engine block. Always carry a spatula in your winter driving kit. Sundance is a traffic jam where they show films on the side. Imagine the problems if a Kardashian gets caught in that kind of traffic. There would be helicopter extractions, plucking Sundancers off the roofs of their abandoned stretched Escalade limos.
So there were meetings. The County, sort of coincidentally, had just received the report from a consultant on traffic issues. The consultant was not able to produce the Silver Bullet that would solve it. Not for $138,000. The report basically said there is more traffic than the existing road system can handle. That’s a surprise. They recommended building more roads and widening existing ones. The County had expected a unicorn-based solution and buses that drive on rainbows.
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There are some options. For about $500 in paint, Highway 248 could be re-striped with two lanes inbound. The pinch-point on that artery is where it narrows from 2 lanes to one at the same time the speed limit is dropping and traffic starts hitting the lights in town. Keeping it two lanes all the way in would help.
Do we really need to have cement trucks and other construction equipment on the road during the morning rush? The morning parade of cement mixers and dump trucks grinds through the lights at a rate of about two vehicles per light cycle. Keeping that slow-moving traffic off the roads for a couple of hours in the morning would help.
There is a longer-range opportunity. As Deer Valley starts working on their expansion to the south of the Jordanelle Gondola, maybe the entire day skier base should move from Snow Park to Highway 40. All the employee vehicles and day skiers arriving from anyplace other than the immediate neighborhood could be shifted to a new, freeway accessible, base at Mayflower. That’s a lot of traffic that would never have to enter Park City at all.
And then at least somewhere in the conversation about the biggest ski resort in the United States, somebody might at least softly mumble about parking and traffic.
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.