Summit County is weighing Kimball Junction traffic solutions
Construction five years away, at least
The most direct way to Interstate 80 from Park City is on S.R. 224, a trip that often ends in a mess of traffic and taillights at the largest commercial district in the Snyderville Basin.
The other option is U.S. 40, which is 3 1/2 miles longer, but features less traffic, fewer traffic lights and, often, fewer headaches.
One reason the U.S. 40 interchange is so comparatively smooth is the bridge shuttling drivers above the intersection onto westbound I-80, a so-called “flyover” built before the 2002 Olympics that allows drivers to maintain highway speed while changing roadways.
County officials have indicated they’re hoping another Olympic-sized infusion of cash will make a similar project happen at Kimball Junction. In the meantime, state and local officials are examining how to improve the Kimball Junction area — the stretch of S.R. 224 extending south from Interstate 80 through the two traffic lights at Olympic Parkway and Ute Boulevard — and are asking for public input on proposed improvements.
A survey with potential solutions can be found at kimballjunctionareaplan.com. It closes on Feb. 12.
As of Wednesday, the survey had received nearly 600 responses, a number that increased markedly as one of the proposed alternatives drew public scrutiny for encroaching on protected open space.
Elected officials have said that option is a non-starter.
The survey is part of a broader study of S.R. 224 extending south to Empire Avenue in Park City. County officials said that each alternative incorporates the bus rapid transit system the county is seeking to install on the S.R. 224 corridor.
Summit County chipped in $100,000 of the $350,000 planning bill, with the Utah Department of Transportation picking up the remainder.
Fixing the intersection is still likely years away. This study is aimed at determining what project would fit the area, while identifying funding sources is a future endeavor.
Councilor Doug Clyde said that the county would likely be financing at least part of the project if it is to happen “in our lifetime.”
A UDOT official said that some of the smaller proposed projects, like adding extra turn lanes, could be accomplished in two to three years, but that none of the projects are included in the agency’s funding plans, which extend five years.
Councilors indicated nearly universal support for a flyover solution similar to the one found at the U.S. 40 interchange, though they acknowledged it would be one of the costliest options.
Grant Farnsworth, UDOT Region 2 planning manager, said the flyover comes with significant engineering challenges and might not actually address the underlying issues.
Farnsworth told the council in a January meeting that half of the vehicles driving through the Kimball Junction intersections were turning into the commercial areas on the east and west sides of S.R. 224.
“This was a pretty startling figure to us,” he said. “We thought it would be primarily ski traffic going to and from I-80. So the fact that there was so much coming and going to the business areas and commercial areas was pretty substantial.”
In an interview Thursday, Farnsworth indicated the local traffic turning to access the businesses at Kimball Junction was a significant factor in traffic delays, and that some left-turn signals “steal green time” from traffic heading to or from the interstate.
His team studied a hypothetical scenario in which the intersections at Ute Boulevard and Olympic Parkway were removed from S.R. 224, finding that the interstate interchange continued to function through 2050 with only modest improvements.
That finding indicates that effective traffic solutions might remove local traffic from S.R. 224, which some proposed alternatives accomplish by creating frontage roads or raising or lowering the state road.
Farnsworth said that a flyover should go above the intersections causing the delays, and that it would have to start far enough south to rise to an elevation to clear the intersection at Olympic Parkway.
That might create a sort of wall between eastern and western Kimball Junction, impeding neighborhood connectivity as well as views of the mountains at a main entranceway to Park City.
County Councilor Chris Robinson indicated support for alternatives that would help connect both sides of Kimball Junction while acknowledging the scale of the proposed projects.
“That’s what happens when you get so many people,” Robinson said. “It’s not going to look like a pristine country road when we get through here, not that it is today. But it’s going to be a concrete jungle.”
Even if the potential of massive residential development doesn’t come to pass, county officials have stated it is a priority to create a coherent, walkable and bikeable neighborhood at Kimball Junction.
Councilors were unanimous in preferring so-called “alternative 3,” which would bury S.R. 224 under the busy intersections, though they indicated they’d like to see some short-term solutions incorporated from other alternatives.
The council panned the proposal to add a special lane for high-occupancy and transit vehicles through protected open space west of Kimball Junction. Some indicated the benefit wouldn’t be worth the cost, while Clyde described it in more black-and-white terms.
“I mean, drawing a new traffic (lane) through the conservation easement over at Hi Ute is probably dead on arrival, because we’re not going to bust the conservation easement,” he said.
The plan preferred by elected officials calls for burying S.R. 224 under the intersections at Ute Boulevard and Olympic Parkway, which would allow for unimpeded travel to the interstate. Local traffic would be directed onto newly created frontage roads to access Kimball Junction businesses. Vehicles heading from Park City to Salt Lake City would still have to pass through a traffic light to access westbound Interstate 80.
Whichever option or mix of options is selected, construction appears to remain years in the future.
Farnsworth indicated the goal of this step of the planning process is to eliminate any plans with “fatal flaws” and to create an area plan with two to four alternative solutions for further review.
Those would then be eligible for environmental review, which can be expensive and lengthy.
Any large-scale solution appears to be five years away, at least.
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.