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Mile Post 2020: Getting there

S.R. 224.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Anyone who commutes into the Park City area — or travels into town from an outlying neighbor- hood like Jeremy Ranch or Pinebrook — has been there: stuck in a rush-hour traffic jam as hundreds of cars converge on the Kimball Junction interchange.

At some point in the future, those maddening, all-too-frequent backups may become a thing of the past — at least if transportation officials have their way.

The Utah Department of Transportation, in partnership with Summit County, last winter began a study to evaluate the interchange, along with the two nearest traffic signals on S.R. 224, at Ute Boulevard and Olympic Parkway, with the aim of identifying the best way to solve the congestion that plagues that area. Among the possible solutions are widening S.R. 224, constructing a Kimball Junction bypass road and reconfiguring the interchange altogether.

While the process is still at a mid-point — and the coronavirus pandemic has forced delays — Caroline Rodriguez, Summit County’s regional transportation planning director, says that a fix for Kimball Junction is possible. That would be a major step toward easing the overall congestion on S.R. 224, which sees more than 42,000 cars on peak days, according to a traffic study commissioned by the Canyons Village Management Association.

“It’s one of our No. 1 priorities to get a solution in place,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hugely significant. It impacts our economy, it impacts all of our workers, all of our visitors on a daily basis.”

Additionally, the county continues to explore a bus rapid transit project on S.R. 224 — essentially a system of buses running in dedicated lanes that allow riders to bypass traffic. In Rodriguez’s view, that is a major component of any plan to alleviate backups on the entryway.

“Not only does it meet our community goals of mitigating traffic, it also meets our community goals of allowing a choice in mode when traveling,” she said. “… This is another progression point in making transit more competitive with a personal vehicle.”

Of course, S.R. 224 is only one of the chokepoints for commuters heading to or from Park City. People traveling from the Kamas Valley or rapidly growing Wasatch County encounter a traffic nightmare of their own on S.R. 248, especially during the ski season.

In 2019, UDOT proposed widening the road to five lanes between the U.S. 40 interchange and the intersection with S.R. 224. But the plan met resistance from City Hall and Park City residents and was ultimately scrapped, leaving the future of S.R. 248 undetermined. One thing is certain, though: the status quo can’t be maintained. Bottlenecks are already a near-daily occurrence on S.R. 248, and intersections along the road will fail by 2040 if no improvements are made, according to UDOT.

For commuters staring at a row of headlights, that eventually seems all too real. The congestion remains a top complaint of residents, as well as the more than 16,000 workers who commute into Summit County.

Rodriguez understands that progress seems slow but offers the perspective of someone in the trenches, working each day to make the situation better even as the demands on the roads continue to increase. It’s a constant process of adjusting and refining plans and trying to understand how a change here knocks down a domino there.

And that’s to say nothing of the strains on staff and financial resources and the fact that both S.R. 224 and S.R. 248 are controlled by UDOT, meaning local officials do not have final authority over the Park City area’s two most problematic roads.

“It feels like we’re always trying to keep our head above water,” she said.

At the same time, Rodriguez is optimistic about the work transportation officials are doing.

“I definitely see progress and am proud of what we’ve achieved,” she said, “and how we continue to work together to make even greater strides.”


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