Prepare for backups: school starts amid heavy tunnel construction
August 24, 2010
The morning rush hour on Kearns Boulevard has been bad enough in recent weeks as work crews have been building a pedestrian-bicyclist tunnel underneath the road.
On Thursday the rush hour will almost certainly get much worse. Classes in the Park City School District begin on Thursday, and even under normal circumstances traffic backs up toward Quinn’s Junction on Kearns Boulevard, which is part of the state highway system, and the S.R. 248 entryway.
The construction, which is centered just outside the School District campus, could make things miserable for parents taking their kids to school and for the commuters who drive past the schools each day.
Meanwhile, School District officials and City Hall have crafted plans in a bid to keep the students are safe as they head to school and then head home in the afternoon.
"We are taking several different measures to ensure the students are able to get to their school safely this fall," said Patrick Ogden, a spokesperson for the School District.
Some of the changes people should expect at the start of the school year include:
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"What we want to do is keep them away from the construction site," Ogden said, acknowledging that he expects "significant delays" in the traffic when the school year starts.
The work crews, the Park City Police Department and teachers are scheduled to hold a walk-through of the plans on Wednesday. Matt Cassel, the Park City engineer and a key figure in the planning for the pedestrian-bicyclist tunnel, said there will be reinforcements stationed at the crossing once school starts.
He said the contractor leading the work will station flaggers at the Kearns Boulevard-Comstock Drive intersection to assist the crossing guards.
"We’re crossing our fingers it’s not worse than last year . . . without any construction there," Cassel said.
He said, meanwhile, City Hall wants state transportation officials to hand over control of the stoplights and pedestrian signals at the intersection while the construction is ongoing, which would make it simpler for people monitoring the intersection to keep traffic flowing and make sure pedestrians cross. The city engineer said it is not known whether the Utah Department of Transportation will agree to the request.
"If we see things are falling apart, we’ll make adjustments," Cassel said, anticipating that the team assisting the students will be "nimble."
The city engineer said he is worried that drivers will become frustrated with the expected backups and then make unwise decisions to avoid the traffic jams. Cassel said he intends to watch the intersection starting by 7:15 a.m. on Thursday.
The pedestrian-bicyclist tunnel is one of two such improvements under construction in Park City, with the other being underneath Bonanza Drive close to the Rail Trail. There was widespread support among Parkites for the tunnels as voters inside Park City approved a ballot measure to fund the tunnels and numerous other pedestrian-bicyclist upgrades. The two tunnels were seen as the most important of the improvements that money raised in the ballot measure would fund.
The tunnel underneath Kearns Boulevard is scheduled to be completed by the first week of October.
Parents and students who live in Prospector are anticipated to use the tunnel underneath Kearns Boulevard in large numbers. Many have long wanted such a tunnel, saying that crossing the busy road is dangerous even with a pedestrian signal close to the schools.
Shirin Spangenberg, who has a first-grader and a fifth-grader at McPolin Elementary School and was a member of a City Hall committee that considered projects to fund with monies from the ballot measure, said she is not overly worried as the school year starts amid the continuing work. The crossing guards normally perform well, she said.
"We’ll make it work," Spangenberg said. "It’s not a great concern."
The Park City School District is updating its website, http://www.pcschools.us, with information about the tunnel work. Information is also available by calling the School District or the schools close to the work. The numbers are: