Park City aerial network, a traffic-fighting concept, appears unlikely for now
The traffic, it seemed, kept getting worse in Park City by 2019, even after the years of complaints about backups across the community and after gridlock-fighting measures like expanded transit had been deployed.
The S.R. 248 entryway is notorious, as the lines of cars sometimes essentially stretch from U.S. 40 to Park Avenue. Commuters are frustrated in the slow-moving traffic, people who live in Prospector look with dismay at the state highway bordering the neighborhood and state and local officials remain perplexed with the situation. It is difficult to widen S.R. 248 in Park City with a steep hillside on one side and environmentally and politically sensitive land on the other.
One traffic-fighting concept that has long intrigued people in Park City involves aerial transit, or essentially creating a network of gondolas and lifts that would carry people between key locales without the need for vehicles. The mountain resorts use gondolas and lifts to move people across the slopes, and some see there being the opportunity to accomplish the same goals on a community-wide basis.
As recently as the fall of 2019 there appeared to be momentum in Park City to move forward with at least an early set of discussions about creating an aerial network as an ambitious measure to fight traffic. Not even a year later, though, it seems less likely aerial links will be a key step in the efforts to reduce traffic, at least in the short term.
There were two notable moments in recent months — both at Park City Planning Commission meetings — involving parties that were seen as having important roles in the discussions about aerial transit. One of the parties, a developer in Deer Valley, outright opted against the concept while the other, City Hall, described the challenges of creating an aerial network. They separately made statements that, taken together, seem to signal a broad aerial transit system will not be pursued in the near future.
A Huntsman family representative at a February meeting of the Planning Commission told the panel the family would not pursue a gondola as part of a Royal Street project that has since been approved. In an earlier round of talks about the Royal Street land, in 2013, an attorney who represented the family indicated the acreage held a strategic location for a gondola that could link Main Street and Silver Lake Village. There was talk at that time of a series of potential routes that would cross the Huntsman family land, with the possibility of a gondola midstation there.
During the February meeting of the Planning Commission, however, the team representing the Huntsman family said a gondola was no longer under consideration. Rory Murphy, a veteran Park City developer tapped by the family for the Royal Street proposal, told the planning commissioners the project, lacking ski-in, ski-out access, did not support the construction of a gondola. The cost of a gondola would have been prohibitive, he has indicated. Murphy said in an interview shortly after the February meeting a gondola could have cost $30 million, explaining the development was not large enough to support that sort of cost.
In a later Planning Commission meeting, held in July, aerial transit was broached during a broad discussion about transportation rather than a talk about an individual project like the one on Royal Street. Bruce Erickson, the planning director at City Hall, at the July meeting provided brief but significant comments about the municipal government’s transportation work.
Erickson keyed his comments on the S.R. 248 corridor, acknowledging that an aerial transit system would involve “a pretty healthy price tag” and there were places of disconnect.
“I don’t know if aerial transportation is going to work,” he told the Planning Commission.
The talks about aerial transit would need to answer a series of questions about routes, destinations and where someone would park their vehicle before boarding an aerial system that would run along the S.R. 248 corridor and then to undecided locations inside Park City, possibly the Old Town transit center and an arts and culture district planned on Kearns Boulevard, he continued.
“It needs to be decided whether we run aerial transportation out to Richardson Flat, and then if we do how do we get the park-and-ride at Quinn’s Junction attached to that. And then where do we bring those folks? Do they go to the transit center? Do they go to arts and culture? Do they go to the resort? We don’t know the answers to that right now,” Erickson said at the July meeting.
In a subsequent interview, Erickson estimated a gondola system linking an arts and culture district with Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort could cost between $50 million and $60 million. Another system would then link the arts and culture district to a location along S.R. 248, at Quinn’s Junction or Richardson Flat, he said.
Erickson, though, also said additional talks are needed with the Provo firm that is pursuing a major development on the PCMR parking lots and, later, with Deer Valley officials as that resort eventually readies a large project in Snow Park.
Traffic for years has been one of the top concerns of Park City leaders and residents, as the backups worsened over time and as traffic-fighting measures did not deliver the desired results. S.R. 248 is especially difficult, with commuters from certain neighborhoods in the Snyderville Basin, the East Side of Summit County and Wasatch County converging on the state highway and adding significantly to the traffic headed to the Park City School District campus on the road.
There have been aerial transit ideas raised in Park City for decades, before they were unable to advance as the details like finances were more closely considered. Some of the ideas, especially the earlier ones, appeared to have been based at least partially on a gondola in Telluride, Colorado, that was launched in the 1990s and links the town of Telluride with a high-altitude slopeside village. One of the local ideas, years ago, involved a gondola linking the project that was ultimately developed as Empire Pass at Deer Valley with PCMR and Main Street.
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Mother Nature has not delivered any early gifts to Park City skiers and snowboarders. As December nears, the area is suffering through an especially dry spell of weather.