S.R. 248 traffic misery spreads
Jeff Schmeiler counts on it: his commute to Park City from Kamas will take about twice as long in the winter as it does in the off-season.
Schmeiler, who manages Peak Experience, a sports shop on Iron Horse Drive, says it now takes him up to 45 minutes to drive to work. Before the bad weather started and the area’s mountain resorts opened, the trip usually took 20 minutes.
"It’s definitely starting to get a little more frustrating," Schmeiler says, admitting that, so far this ski season, the commute has not taken longer than last year.
Schmeiler is one of the thousands of drivers who enter Park City each day on S.R. 248, the state highway used by people who live on the East Side of Summit County and in Wasatch County. But the highway, known in Park City as Kearns Boulevard, is under stress and traffic jams on the road during the morning commute are sometimes terrible, lots of Parkites say.
This week, complaints were widespread after gridlock gripped the highway on Monday afternoon. Eric DeHaan, the Park City engineer, says the Utah Highway Patrol closed U.S. 40 that day after a series of slide-offs blamed on the weather.
Once U.S. 40 was closed, traffic backed up on S.R. 248, the city engineer reports, leaving cars lined up for miles trying to leave Park City.
But DeHaan says that traffic on S.R. 248 is usually worst in the morning rush hour, when the commuters compete with parents and school buses taking kids to classes at the Park City School District campus on Kearns Boulevard. Students crossing the street walking to school also contribute to the backups.
"We simply have all of the problems come together. You have more cars than ever before coming into Park City," DeHaan says, adding, "If there’s only two people driving into Park City, no problem."
Schmeiler suggests that S.R. 248 be widened to four lanes, two lanes for each direction of traffic, and pedestrian tunnels be built under the road at the schools complex. If both are done, he says, traffic could be slashed.
"I don’t see any other way you’re going to do it," says Schmeiler, who has lived in the area for 10 years after arriving from Connecticut.
He plans to start working earlier hours starting in mid-December to avoid the S.R. 248 traffic.
The complaints early in the ski season are likely disconcerting to leaders. With early snowfall and Park City’s booming resort business, it seems that the 2006-2007 ski season could be the most congested ever. Parkites and commuters have been increasingly leery of the traffic.
DeHaan says studies have shown that about 4,000 cars are driving into Park City on S.R. 248 between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. during the winter. He says the road, which was reconstructed with a divider but no new traffic lanes in 1999, is at capacity during the morning commuter hours. It is below capacity the rest of the day, he says.
"That’s 22 hours of the day it works fine, absent an accident or blizzard," DeHaan says.
The traffic on S.R. 248 is spilling into Prospector, neighbors charge. They recently approached Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council with complaints that drivers, in an effort to avoid the backup on S.R. 248, turn into Prospector on their way to work.
City Hall acknowledges that the local government is not planning major new initiatives this winter in an effort to reduce the traffic or make it flow better along S.R. 248. DeHaan says officials hope workers switch their commuting times on their own. Rick Ryan, a Police Department lieutenant, says the police, with others at City Hall, plan to study traffic on Prospector streets.
Kayla Lewis, who works at Leger’s, a sandwich shop off Kearns Boulevard, says she leaves for work from Highland Estates about 15 minutes earlier when her shift starts at 8:30 a.m., realizing that there could be skier and school traffic on S.R. 248.
Lewis says traffic starts backing up sometimes at Quinn’s Junction. Once she passes the schools, the traffic lets up, she says. Lewis mentions that, perhaps, officials could remove the raised median on S.R. 248. If that’s done, she says, maybe another inbound lane of traffic could be built.
"It’s just growing, I guess. I’ve lived up here 30 years," Lewis says. "It’s just growing everywhere you go."
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The Park City Police Department last week received at least two reports involving cases of different natures at construction locations. In one of the cases, the police were told 1,000 construction workers had left vehicles on the street.