UDOT sees Rail Trail as a possible transit corridor | ParkRecord.com

UDOT sees Rail Trail as a possible transit corridor

Concept quickly generates displeasure in neighborhood

The Rail Trail, seen close to its western terminus, is popular with bicyclists and hikers. Transportation planners say there is an option to create a transit corridor along the route of the Rail Trail. There is resistance in the neighborhood close to the Rail Trail.

City Hall and state transportation officials are considering road-capacity improvements for a transit corridor along the S.R. 248 entryway, a process that will likely be delicate at times and uproarious at other points as officials ponder options that will undoubtedly disappoint many in Park City and outright infuriate others.

The idea is to add one lane in each direction for buses and carpools. Expanding that stretch of S.R. 248 has been considered over the years, as traffic became worse, and steps have been taken to improve the function of the road, including the removal of a concrete barrier that opened up a lane of traffic.

One of the current options involves reconfiguring the existing S.R. 248 corridor between Quinn's Junction and the intersection with S.R. 224. It is likely there would be some resistance depending on the details of the reconfiguration.

Another option, a far more dramatic one, contemplates creating a road corridor along the route of the Rail Trail, which is located just off S.R. 248. The Rail Trail follows the route of a historic railroad line between Park City and Echo. It is popular with hikers and bicyclists.

There remains a possibility the Utah Department of Transportation will not pursue any work and the S.R. 248 entryway would be left as it is now, known as a no-build option. Additional options could be crafted through the public process.

Any move by City Hall and the Utah Department of Transportation centered on the Rail Trail or even just off the route would almost certainly become a politically charged affair with recreation lovers and people who live in nearby neighborhoods lining up in opposition. The Rail Trail has for years been one of Park City's most beloved trails as it provides a relatively flat option for pedestrians, runners and beginner-level bicyclists.

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The Utah Department of Transportation in mid-August sent a notification letter to property owners close to the Rail Trail indicating an environmental assessment will be prepared as part of an evaluation process and the workers may be required to access the properties. The environmental assessment is in the early stages, the letter says. City Hall said 62 notifications were distributed to property owners, primarily in Prospector and part of Chatham Hills.

The study areas include 300 feet on each side of the Rail Trail and 400 feet on each side of S.R. 248 in addition to the routes themselves. The environmental assessment will address a series of issues like plant life, wildlife, the hydrology and the geology. It will also delve into the potential noise of a transit corridor, the effects on air quality and whether there are any cultural or historic sites.

Alfred Knotts, the transportation planning manager at City Hall, said on Thursday an initial 16-month process is anticipated. The Utah Department of Transportation has set aside a budget placeholder of $10 million for the construction.

"We're looking for all kinds of feedback," he said.

The S.R. 248 entryway has become increasingly problematic in the last decade as it carried heavier traffic loads. The three lanes – one inbound, one outbound and one turning – are stressed at various points through much of the year. It is a key route into and out of Park City for drivers headed to and from parts of the Snyderville Basin, the East Side of Summit County and Wasatch County. The backups on the state highway are regularly some of the worst in the Park City area. Knotts said there are issues during the morning commute, the evening commute and at other times during the busiest tourism days.

"There's daily failures on the corridor," Knotts said.

The Utah Department of Transportation notifications spurred interest in the neighborhoods as residents learned of the potential ramifications. Sandra Whitehouse, who lives on Cochise Court, a street in Prospector close to the Rail Trail, said a corridor along the route of the Rail Trail would be "paving over a paradise." She is worried about traffic, noise and vehicle fumes.

"It would absolutely devastate the neighborhood. We would be sandwiched between two arteries coming into Park City," she said, adding, "None of us see how they could do this."

She also said the design of a corridor could result in traffic jams elsewhere, such as along Bonanza Drive.

"It would change the neighborhood to feeling like we were part of a road," she said.

The Utah Department of Transportation project manager overseeing the discussions, Steve Quinn, said any plans would ensure the protection of the "capabilities the Rail Trail provides."

"There is no plan at this point to remove or change that," he said about the Rail Trail.

State transportation officials are basing the process on the projected traffic on the S.R. 248 entryway in 2040. Quinn said traffic is becoming heavier and will continue to worsen over time.

"More and more people are using that corridor," he said.