A Big Dig, Park City style | ParkRecord.com

A Big Dig, Park City style

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

A future commuter’s option? gridlock on S.R. 248 into Park City or a smooth-flowing tunnel.

In a surprise suggestion, one that is among the most radical ideas heard locally to cut traffic, Joe Kernan, a Park City Councilman, says City Hall should consider building a tunnel into the city.

He acknowledges he is unsure of the details, including a route, but says a tunnel could lessen the stress on S.R. 248, the eastern entryway into Park City and a road that has drawn increasing criticism from commuters, people who live in Prospector and parents driving their kids to schools along the road.

"The quality of life for people is suffering and that includes for employees who commute into Park City," Kernan says as he describes the idea, suggesting worker productivity is dropping because of the traffic.

Kernan, a first-term City Councilman who is seeking re-election this year, is known for his nontraditional ideas and his talk about a tunnel appears to have surprised others at City Hall. He broached the idea at a recent City Council meeting.

He says he has heard a few ideas to ease traffic along S.R. 248, with a tunnel being among them. Others, he says, include widening S.R. 248 from the U.S. 40 interchange to Park City or building an elevated road above the state highway or the nearby Rail Trail. Those, he says, are not appealing, however, and he wants talks about a tunnel to advance.

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Others on the City Council appeared leery of the idea and there was little discussion by the elected officials after Kernan described a tunnel. It seems unlikely City Hall will pursue the idea, leaving Kernan to continue to mull options on his own.

Building a tunnel would be a complicated process, likely taking years of negotiations between state officials and leaders in Park City, Summit County and, probably, Wasatch County. There would be numerous bureaucratic decisions needed before one could advance and a series of scientific and engineering determinations would be required.

It would be among the most ambitious public-works projects in the Park City area, ranking with the construction of the nearby reservoirs.

Eric DeHaan, the veteran engineer for City Hall, listened to Kernan’s suggestion and says tunnels are effective, sometimes, in keeping commuter traffic away from local drivers. He says Kernan’s idea could allow the commuters to bypass the traffic from neighbors in Prospector and the stretch of the road outside the schools. He expects a tunnel would need to be between two and three miles long.

"There’s a reason civil engineers love tunnels," DeHaan says, predicting a tunnel could cut drivers on S.R. 248, which is also known as Kearns Boulevard as it enters Park City.

But DeHaan describes a tangled process that would be needed before it could be built. He says it would probably cost "millions upon millions of dollars" and Kernan pegs the price at between $50 million and $100 million. Kernan says the tunnel could last 50 years so the price is sensible.

DeHaan suggests revenues from a bond could pay for the construction and, perhaps, tolls could fund the maintenance and operations. He says technology exists to build such a tunnel.

DeHaan says the government would need to buy privately held land, water might need to be diverted and deals would have to be negotiated with people who hold rights to silver and minerals buried underneath the ground.

He says, perhaps, a tunnel could run from near the Mayflower interchange on U.S. 40, near the Jordanelle Reservoir, to a spot close to Snow Park or the Old Town roundabout. That route could be attractive to drivers from South Summit and Wasatch County.

"You could take the tunnel, be in Deer Valley, and not drive past the schools," DeHaan says.

Kernan talks of a tunnel possibly connecting S.R. 248 at a point near P.C. Hill to the Deer Valley Drive-Bonanza Drive intersection or where Deer Valley Drive meets Aerie Drive.

"I think it’s unacceptable for it to keep getting worse," Kernan says about traffic. "It’s gotten worse over the last couple of years."