Park City, leery of Carmageddon II, readies holiday traffic strategy
It is less than a week until the one-year anniversary of the Park City area’s own Carmageddon, perhaps the worst traffic jam in the city’s history.
And City Hall hopes this year does not bring Carmageddon II.
On Dec. 29, 2014, with big holiday crowds in Park City and a persistent snow falling, the area’s road system effectively broke down in the afternoon, as skiers departed the mountain resorts.
It was bumper-to-bumper traffic from the upper reaches of Deer Valley to the entryways. There were horror stories across Park City of trips taking more than an hour that normally took a few minutes. There were no outlets, it seemed, as vehicles crawled a few feet at a time. Drivers were visibly unhappy and some, it was later learned, were angry enough to write complaint letters to Park City leaders.
This year, as the busy Christmas-to-New Year’s period fast approaches, Park City officials say they have taken steps over the past year in an effort to ensure there is not a repeat traffic jam. The snowy, miserable commutes on Monday and Tuesday, though, could be just a preview of the next week if the snow continues to fall as the holiday crowds arrive.
Deer Valley Drive, Bonanza Drive, Park Avenue and Kearns Boulevard are well established as thoroughfares where traffic slows even on a typical winter day as skiers and commuters converge. The traffic jam last year, though, spread through numerous other streets as the situation deteriorated.
"I’m fairly confident we put measures in place that will address the situation," said Alfred Knotts, the transportation planning manager at City Hall.
Knotts arrived at the municipal government after the traffic jam, but he is aware of what unfolded that day. He said officials have held weekly meetings addressing topics like transit, parking and communications since September as they prepared for the ski season.
Knotts said he and the County Courthouse’s regional transportation planning director, Caroline Ferris, will monitor traffic on a real-time basis over the holidays. He also said extended bus routes like an express line linking PCMR’s two base areas and Main Street will be of assistance.
Knotts and other local officials have engaged the Utah Department of Transportation as they prepared for the holidays. Two critical roads in the Park City area, S.R. 224 and S.R. 248, are under state control, and the only stoplights are along those state highways.
One of the issues that exacerbated the situation last December were jammed intersections. Drivers were stuck in the middle of intersections when the stoplight turned red. That prevented other vehicles from moving forward, quickly leading to even worse backups.
Knotts said the Park City Police Department, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the Utah Highway Patrol will monitor the roads.
He also described a new traffic pattern in the vicinity of the Resort Center meant to better manage the flow of vehicles. A section of Lowell Avenue as it passes PCMR will be turned into a one-way road in either direction depending on the time of day. That is meant to unclog a stretch of road that is critical to skier traffic in the morning and afternoon.
Knotts, meanwhile, suggests people not drive unless they have to between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. during the holidays to avoid the traffic as skiers leave, requests drivers not block intersections and desires that drivers be courteous. If someone remains at the resorts a little later than they normally do, they may avoid the worst of the traffic, he said.
The Police Department was heavily involved in the traffic planning as well. Phil Kirk, the police captain who oversees the department’s operations, said officers will monitor Lowell Avenue, Deer Valley Drive, Bonanza Drive and Empire Avenue. Reinforcement officers will be on duty on the busiest days. He said manually operating the stoplights is "very much the last resort" since stoplights from Kimball Junction to Quinn’s Junction are synchronized.
Kirk said PCMR intends to increase the number of parking staffers to assist with the resort’s own operations. Additional message boards will be placed along Deer Valley Drive, S.R. 224 and S.R. 248 indicating when resort parking lots are full. There is also a better communication plan in place this year than there was in 2014, he said.
Kirk said police officers will be posted at the intersection of Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard and the Park Avenue-Empire Avenue intersection during the mornings and afternoons in an attempt to ensure the intersections remain clear.
"If officers are there, people are less likely to back up and block the intersection," Kirk said.
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The people at the second part of the Park City Future Summit were nearly unanimous in indicating they have some level of concern.