The road more traveled
February 15, 2008
For someone who has been instrumental in roadwork in Park City for more than 20 years, it is S.R. 224 that still stands out for Eric DeHaan.
The road now is a busy thoroughfare linking Kimball Junction and Park City and it is the most direct route between the city and the Salt Lake Valley. Neighborhoods continue to sprout up along the S.R. 224 corridor, and business booms.
The state highway, with its wide lanes and stoplights, is critical for Parkites and visitors. In the 1980s, though, when DeHaan arrived as the Park City engineer, S.R. 224 offered drivers little, a "terrible two-lane road that had horrendous asphalt problems and alignment problems," DeHaan remembers.
"For better or worse, it’s a huge improvement over what it was," DeHaan says on one of his last days on the job as the city engineer.
DeHaan left his position at City Hall on Friday, ending almost 23 years as the local government’s chief road designer. He held wide influence, with DeHaan being a key staffer with responsibilities covering roadwork and related topics like waterworks projects and development.
With dry wit, DeHaan would deliver so-called ‘backhoe reports’ during the road-construction season each year, describing what City Hall and state projects would annoy drivers each week during the good weather.
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He was a staple at Park City Council and Planning Commission meetings, monitoring the officials as they considered what to do with development ideas and which public-sector road projects should be pursued.
S.R. 224, still, is the key road on the West Side, and DeHaan says it is better for drivers than it once was. There used to be "constant traffic jams" on the road, but it was widened in phases in the 1980s. He remembers the difficulties negotiating with property owners whose land was needed to widen the road, but he says the improvements were needed.
Park City’s tourism-heavy economy benefited from the roadwork, DeHaan says, allowing people to easily reach the area from Salt Lake City. That has long been at the core of the area’s marketing, which trumpets the quick drive to Park City from Salt Lake City International Airport.
"Forever, we’ve been advertising ourselves as being 45 minutes from the Salt Lake international airport . . . ," DeHaan says, "That really never was the case."
In the meantime, DeHaan, who helped craft the S.R. 224 plans during City Hall’s long-running negotiations with the Utah Department of Transportation, credits the widened state highway with the growth in Deer Valley and at Kimball Junction. He cautions, though, the West Side of Summit County is "overdeveloped already," and he cites what many people say is worsening traffic as evidence.
DeHaan, who is 54 years old and lives in the Avenues district of Salt Lake City after growing up in Ogden, worked at a private-sector engineering firm in the Salt Lake Valley in the late 1970s. The firm had lots of work in Park City, which was close to entering one of its great growth spurts. 1985, DeHaan was established as an engineer experienced in Park City, and City Hall hired him that spring.
The local government operated on a "tight budget" at the time, he recalls, and operations were not as grand as they are now, with the bus system of the era lacking the ambition of that of today. City officials held desires, though, to turn Park City into a top-shelf resort.
Storm drains were a priority in the years after bad flooding in the early 1980s, and building tricky roads like Aerie Drive and Mellow Mountain Road was assigned to DeHaan.
In the bountiful years since, DeHaan has especially been busied by roadwork. Parkites often complain about the traffic, but DeHaan often counters that there are few options. There are two all-weather ways in and out of the city, and growth continues. That puts lots of pressure on the entryways and key streets in Park City like Bonanza Drive.
DeHaan wonders about what he sees as conflicting wishes of Parkites. They want to redevelop the Main Street Mall and continue to build at the resorts, as examples, but those sorts of projects draw more traffic and could have other effects on the area’s environment.
The disputes make City Hall a "pressure cooker of a place to work," DeHaan says, describing the influence held by different groups like the real-estate community, the Rotary Club and neighborhoods.
DeHaan leaves as City Hall readies an ambitious plan to redo Bonanza Drive, a crucial road that links Prospector and the North of Main district with Old Town and the city’s mountain resorts. It is also a well-used route into Park City from the East Side of Summit County and Wasatch County. Officials plan to install a pedestrian-bicyclist tunnel under the road during the redo.
DeHaan has led the Bonanza Drive efforts to date, but his successor and consultants will help Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council decide the road’s fate. Bonanza Drive fails, from the perspective of a traffic engineer, during the morning and afternoon rush hours, and cars back up from its intersection with Kearns Boulevard.
He agrees with the city’s plans, saying the road should be upgraded. It was built in stages starting in the mid-1970s and ending in 1983, when it was connected to Deer Valley Drive.
"Bonanza, I feel good about it," he says. "When it was first built, it was built on a wing and a prayer."