With Parleys Canyon overhaul, Park City-Salt Lake City commute could change dramatically
For Park City’s workers who commute to or from the Salt Lake Valley, the morning drive can sometimes feel like a battle.
And for visitors road tripping west or coming in from the Salt Lake International Airport, traffic in Parleys Canyon can sometimes hit like a sucker punch even when it isn’t snowing.
That could change in the coming decades.
The public has until March 9 to submit comments on a Utah Department of Transportation draft proposal intended to radically improve the flow and safety of traffic on the roads leading in and out of the western mouth of Parleys Canyon, which is a critical local, state and national economic node that hasn’t been updated in more than half a century. It’s a big undertaking, and UDOT officials estimate that the project could be completed as late as 2040, but a number of variables like an early approval of funding or a successful Winter Olympics bid could speed up the process.
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“It’s a vital corridor to transport goods all over the nation,” said UDOT spokesman John Gleason in an interview. “You can’t overstate how important I-80 is.”
UDOT plans to release the final Parleys Interchange environmental impact statement in July following the public comment period, which included an open house in Salt Lake City on Feb. 12 where alternative construction plans were presented to a crowd of more than 100 people.
The Utah of the 1960s was a much different place from the Utah of today.
The state’s population, the vast majority of which lives in the cities of the western slope of the Wasatch Range, nearly quadrupled from 1960 to 2019, according to Census Bureau estimates. A number of factors, including the 2002 Winter Olympics and an explosion in the tourism and service industry, have propelled the state to be one of the fastest growing in the nation.
The Salt Lake County interchange is the primary eastbound gateway to Park City, where an ever-increasing amount of commuters and visitors from multiple high-traffic roadways in Salt Lake City and Millcreek merge onto I-80 eastbound and head uphill through Parleys Canyon. Naomi Kisen, a UDOT staffer leading the environmental study, said that one of the main problems facing travelers through the interchange today are the areas where the roadways merge into each other, resulting in claustrophobic merges and traffic jams that can surprise drivers coming around its curves.
A core part of the UDOT proposal is to lengthen the amount of time drivers have to make decisions and merge onto the various roadways, Kisen said.
“The 215 on-ramp onto I-80 in the canyon is kind of a very aggressive movement to get on, and also the off-ramp,” she said. “Coming straight across on I-80, what we’re trying to do is separate the flow of traffic a little more so you’re not competing with people trying to get on 215 southbound.
“Less competing, less merging, less dealing with basically people going in other directions.”
About 60,000 vehicles pass through the interchange into the canyon daily, according to a 2017 UDOT study. UDOT has identified five areas of the interchange where crashes tend to occur as well. Between 2010 and 2015, 341 injury accidents occurred at the interchange.
Another aim of the project is to widen the area where Foothill Drive enters onto I-215, which doesn’t affect eastbound traffic to Park City but sees significant backups that cause headaches for commuters and travelers on their way to and from the University of Utah.
Inputs and output
A crucial part of UDOT’s assessment is on the environmental impact of such a project — how it would interact with the Wasatch Front’s watershed, its effects on local trails and the noise generated by a higher volume of traffic passing through Salt Lake City and Millcreek. Kisen said that noise walls have been considered for the project but are unlikely to be used, as their effect would be minimal.
The input of commuters and visitors is crucial to the planning process, Gleason said.
“We really do want to hear from everyone,” he said. “We can only be better when we hear from the people who our projects are going to affect, so that’s why we are going to involve people early and as often as they’d like to be involved.”
Summit County is listed as a participating agency in UDOT documents, but country transportation manager Caroline Rodriguez said that, for now, the county is focused on addressing traffic concerns that are closer to home.
To view the draft proposal of the Parleys Interchange Environmental Impact Statement and submit comments, visit the UDOT website for the project at parleyseis.com. The public comment period ends on March 9.
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