County considers its role as lead on Mountain Accord study
Summit County officials are exploring whether the County Council should relinquish its role as the lead on a transportation study commissioned through Mountain Accord that focuses on the primary corridors linking the Wasatch Front and Back, including State Roads 224 and 248.
The $400,000 project, referred to as the I-80/Parley’s study, is set to look at a range of transit alternatives for traffic mitigation along Interstate 80, U.S. 40 and State Roads 224 and 248. Council members agreed to take the helm as the administrative body for day-to-day project management in October.
However, Caroline Ferris, Summit County’s regional transportation director, recently informed council members that staff is considering turning the role over to the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
"The subject area is owned and operated by UDOT so it would make sense for the owner and operator to do the study themselves because we could make all the recommendations we wanted, but it’s UDOT’s call on it," Ferris said. "The conversation has shifted to, ‘let’s step back and see if we are the best entity and why it would be better for UDOT to do it."
The I-80/Parley’s study is one of several that will be conducted as the Mountain Accord transitions into the second phase. It will be fully funded through that process. Its focus on the primary corridors between the county and the Salt Lake Valley was one of the main reasons the council chose to stay involved in the Mountain Accord.
When Ferris broached the topic during a recent meeting, council member Roger Armstrong appeared taken aback.
"I’m troubled by it," Armstrong in an interview with The Park Record. "I think the reason that Summit County decided that there was value remaining in the Mountain Accord process was because we understood that there would be a specific focus on the transportation challenges that we have, with respect to 224, 248 and U.S. 40, and finding better ways to move people from both the airport and the Salt Lake Valley.
As part of those discussions, council members were informed that the county would be the entity that would take the lead, Armstrong said.
"And that seemed important because UDOT governs both highways they should have some understanding that the solutions we need here are not just limited to those corridors, but generally how we are able to move around," he said. "For those purposes I think Summit County and Park City are probably in a better position to guide that process."
Armstrong said he needs more information about how the transition in leadership would affect the county’s interests.
"Things seem to move in curious directions in the Mountain Accord and some of the movements are at least worth asking about," Armstrong said. "The whole council decided to stay in and if that is now changed we should at least talk about it."
Council member Chris Robinson, who also holds a seat on the Mountain Accord executive board, said he doesn’t share Armstrong’s initial apprehension. However, he admitted he needed more information as well.
"I haven’t heard from our staff the details of why we may consider this and even whether they are in favor of it," Robinson said. "I think the other part to consider is what does Park City think about this?
"My initial reaction is I think that is fine," he said. "I don’t think that UDOT is out to get us because I have been sitting through a lot of meetings about these corridor studies and I think they are acting in good faith. I don’t see it as a red flag, but I want to hear more about it before I pass judgement."
Ferris said UDOT has the ability to "get a project on the stick" and receive recommendations for funding.
While the conversations have only been preliminary at this point, Ferris said county officials are beginning to weigh the pros and cons of staying in the lead, while trying to determine how to get the most out of the study.
"In terms of pros, even though 224 and 248 are part of UDOT it is in our county and our residents drive it every day. So to be the guiding force makes sense because our council is directly responsible for its citizens," Ferris said. "The con is that we don’t have the ability that UDOT does to get a project going. But while we can work with UDOT, they are responsible for the entire state so whether they see our project as a priority is questionable."
Ferris acknowledged that she is also unsure about council members’ support, adding that staff has not had enough time to gauge their response.
"If we do go forward talking with UDOT I need to make sure if this is something that they can stomach," Ferris said. "Not only would it be turning over the lead, it is also a big piece of why they stayed involved. I really to make sure with my councilors if that is that still the best use of the county’s investment of Mountain Accord."
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