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Roundabout ‘tweaking’ considered

City Hall is considering upgrading the Old Town roundabout to make it safer for drivers to navigate, an acknowledgment that traffic at the crucial location continues to cause problems years after the roundabout was built.

Park City officials this week described initial work that could include reconfiguring three traffic islands at the roundabout as early as this fall.

The redone islands would especially help westbound drivers on Deer Valley Drive during the busiest times, said Kent Cashel, the deputy Public Works director and a key figure in the talks about the roundabout.

Under a new configuration, two lanes of traffic would enter the roundabout from westbound Deer Valley Drive. There is currently one lane entering from that direction.

providing drivers with two roundabout lanes from westbound Deer Valley Drive, officials would be attempting to ease the afternoon traffic crush skiers create as they leave Deer Valley Resort.

Deer Valley Drive is the primary access to Snow Park, the site of the resort’s largest parking lots. During the ski season, the traffic often backs up on Deer Valley Drive toward Snow Park as the drivers reach the roundabout.

Drivers also queue waiting to enter the roundabout from Marsac Avenue, one of the roads that used to drive to Silver Lake Village in upper Deer Valley.

A blueprint of work under discussion provided to The Park Record shows the reconfigured traffic islands extending further toward the roundabout than they do now.

Cashel estimates traffic has increased at the roundabout by about 6 percent annually over the past five years. Studies have not been conducted at the roundabout, however, and Cashel bases his estimate on traffic numbers taken on S.R. 224 and S.R. 248 over the period.

The roundabout handles traffic heading to and from Deer Valley and Old Town. It is busiest during the ski season, but people who live in the upper reaches of Old Town and in Silver Lake Village neighborhoods regularly use the roundabout.

An early version of a Park City Council agenda for Thursday included a request for the elected officials to approve a $212,133 construction agreement with a South Jordan firm for the work. The item, though, was removed from the agenda before Thursday’s meeting. Details of the agreement were not publicized.

Cashel said the deal might be presented to the City Council on Oct. 2. If it is not, he said reconfiguring the islands would be delayed until at least 2009. Park City typically does not start roadwork later in the fall because of the chance of bad weather.

The roundabout stands as one of City Hall’s most ambitious road improvements of the last decade. It replaced what had been an awkward intersection where drivers regularly became confused. The roundabout debuted in the early part of the decade as a companion project to the Old Town transit center on Swede Alley, paid for mostly with federal funds earmarked for Utah as the state prepared for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

But drivers still sometimes become confused about whether they must yield at the roundabout or whether they can exit the roundabout from their lane. The confusion frequently leads to close calls and drivers abruptly changing lanes. Cashel, though, said the accident rate at the roundabout is not troublesome.

"The safety does not appear to be an issue," he said. "It doesn’t stand out as a dangerous intersection."

The Park City Police Department sometimes places traffic cones in the roundabout to separate the lanes in an attempt to make it easier for the drivers.

Park City Engineer Matt Cassel, who holds influence in City Hall road projects, said he expects "good results" from the reconfigured islands. He said new signs and road striping are also planned.

"I just think it’s a little bit of tweaking," Cassel said.

He said officials would monitor the traffic after the upgrades are completed. If problems persist, major work could be considered, Cassel said.

Deer Valley officials are involved in the talks, with Bob Wheaton, the president and general manager of the resort, saying Deer Valley is willing to hand over a small piece of land on the edge of the roundabout needed for the work.

The design under consideration is "absolutely awesome" and "ideal," Wheaton said. He said the resort sometimes receives complaints about backups at the end of the ski day.

"It’s tough to leave on really busy days," he said, adding, "It’s not the best way to end a great ski day."


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