New transportation director to face snarled intersections
With the painful memory of last December’s version of Carmageddon still fresh,
Summit County took big strides toward solving its growing congestion issues.
On Tuesday, the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission gave the final green light to a new transportation center at Kimball Junction.
The day before, the county announced it had hired a transportation planning director, a newly created position meant to tackle the clogged intersections on the main arteries in and out of Park City and the Snyderville Basin.
Though the two actions happened within days of each other, they were not related, just part of a growing sense among Summit County officials that traffic is a big problem.
"The fundamental issue," said Chris Robinson, Summit County Council member, "is how do we get people out of their cars as we continue to be more popular as a destination and as a place to live."
Robinson and others confess to having no silver bullet, but he says he is happy the county had brought on board a transportation planner, Caroline Ferris, who will start her new position next Monday, July 20.
It was a good move, he said, to have "some dedicated person who can really focus at a high level within the county on these issues."
But the vexing question facing the county still remains: How many locals actually will trade driving the convenient single-occupant automobile for riding some form of mass transit?
"The majority of our traffic problem is local traffic," said Kim Carson, Summit County Council chair. "Of course, in the mornings and afternoons when the ski resorts are loading and unloading, that exacerbates it.
"But on a day-to-day basis, it’s local employees, local shoppers, parents."
The just-hired transportation planner faces a host of traffic and transit issues, council members and administrators say. Even in the off-season, traffic in the Snyderville Basin flowing into Park City is better than steady. During morning and afternoon rushes, traffic at Kimball Junction snarls into waiting times that often force drivers to sit through two to three red lights before clearing the intersections.
The roads clog even more during peak ski season. Famously last year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, roads throughout Park City and the Basin slowed to such a crawl one day that routes which usually take a few minutes grew into hour-long commutes.
At least 60 percent of the Park City area’s workforce arrives from outside the area, said Tom Fisher, the county manager. Nearly all have to travel through Kimball and Quinn’s junctions.
Fisher remembers when he was interviewing for the manager’s job a year ago, much of his conversation focused around traffic. That’s why he pushed to create the new position of traffic planner. Helping the county to find answers to those transportation challenges will be one of Ferris’ chief tasks.
Especially at the forefront are the two junctions. Fisher agrees with council member Robinson that there is no easy solution. But the new planner will have to engage all levels of government to plan a less congested future.
"(She needs to answer) how we are going to put different things into place incrementally that are going to take bites away from that problem," he said.
Secondly, she will need to answer who will pay for the solutions. Fisher said he hopes she will think beyond the usual suspects of tapping the government’s keg.
"We have large employers within the county, the ski industry for example," Fisher said. Those employers attract people to the area who use the roads.
"What role can they play as they develop further," he said.
The traffic problems are exacerbated by a growing population, says county councilor Roger Armstrong, and those numbers are only projected to grow. Within 30 years, Summit County will probably double in size. More traffic will only follow. That’s why it’s critical to act now.
"It’s more important to get ahead of these challenges. I don’t think any body wants to be choking in traffic," he said.
Since local residents make up two-thirds of the traffic, Armstrong echoes the mantra of getting drivers out of their cars.
"There’s a psychology to transportation that we have to be aware of" when dealing with traffic problems, he says. Cars are simply too convenient.
"They are the ultimate (in convenience) for the individual. The closer we can get to matching that convenience, the closer we are to getting people out of their cars."
The conversation about traffic, county officials say, usually circles back to fewer cars and more buses. Many say it would help if they caught people long before they reached the junctions. The current system, said county chair Carson, needs improvements both in circulation and frequency.
"We’re fortunate that we have an excellent transportation system in place but it doesn’t mean that there’s not room for improvement to encourage people to get on it, particularly the locals," she said.
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.