Traffic headaches persist
Howard Moffett remembers when dignitary motorcades shut down the roads when he lived in New York, nearby United Nations headquarters, in the mid-1980s.
The traffic there, he remembered on Thursday, was not much worse than what he has seen in Park City in the last couple weeks, when huge holiday crowds clogged streets, creating traffic jams that seemed to many to be some of the worst ever in the city.
"I’ve never seen it like this before. It’s total gridlock," Moffett said at about noon on Thursday, when there was not much traffic on busy city streets like Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard. "It reminded me of Manhattan when the president came through."
A Jeremy Ranch resident who owns the Good Karma restaurant at 817 Park Ave., Moffett shuttled houseguests in and out of Park City for two weeks during the holidays. It took up to an hour to return home from Park City Mountain Resort, Moffet said, describing the circuitous route he took from the resort — Kearns Boulevard to S.R. 248 to U.S. 40 to Interstate 80 in an effort to avoid the traffic on S.R. 224.
Moffett and his guests, dismayed with the backup, decided to stay in Park City, get some hot chocolate and wait out the traffic, departing the city at 6 p.m. instead of about 4 p.m., when traffic from PCMR and Deer Valley can extend for miles.
"It got so bad during the beginning, I just hung out in town," he said.
The holiday traffic is normally bad in Park City, with the period between Christmas and New Year’s traditionally one of the biggest weeks of the year for the ski industry. But this year there seems to be more complaints about the traffic, a subject that has frustrated Parkites for years.
The rush hour extends from about 3 p.m., an hour before the lifts close at the ski resorts, until the early evening, when the people who work in the city leave for home.
The traffic is especially bad on streets like Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard, heavily traveled by people who live in Prospector, the East Side of Summit County and Wasatch County. Also, traffic backs up on Park Avenue, the artery for people heading to the Snyderville Basin and Salt Lake City.
"This is one of our, what we call, our peak, peak periods, admits Eric DeHaan, the Park City engineer, who monitors traffic for City Hall. "We can’t handle the crowds in these peak, peak periods."
DeHaan acknowledges that, from the perspective of a traffic engineer, the Bonanza Drive-Kearns Boulevard and Park Avenue-Kearns Boulevard intersections fail during peak times, like the holidays, the Sundance Film Festival and President’s Day weekend.
"There’s so many cars it doesn’t move to any significant degree," DeHaan said.
He anticipates that traffic during the busiest times will continue and wonders if it will expand to other weeks during the ski season that now are busy but not with the heavy traffic of the holidays.
Solutions, DeHaan said, include costly road improvements, which City Hall might be leery of because of the price. The roadwork would likely require a partnership with the Utah Department of Transportation.
He said widening the Park Avenue-Empire Avenue intersection, nearby PCMR, with an additional turn lane could cost more than $1 million. Widening S.R. 248 from U.S. 40 to Sidewinder Drive from three to five lanes could reach $21 million, DeHaan said.
DeHaan said Parkites, though, must realize that road improvements, if they are undertaken, will not eliminate traffic in the city.
"To what extent do you throw resources at trying to resolve those," he said.
The traffic is not bringing lots of customers to businesses along the roads, said Rodman Jordan, the president of the NoMa Business Alliance, a disparate group of businesses located north of Main Street, including those along Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard.
"People feel like they’re still in L.A.," Jordan said. "It is worse than the Olympics."
He suggests that more public transportation is needed, saying that perhaps a regional transit center could be built in the NoMa district. That, he said, could influence people to park their cars and take buses to other spots in the city.
"I think the rat race is a negative experience," Jordan said, adding that the city is losing its "charm" and "small-town experience."
Some of the store owners along Bonanza Drive on Thursday were unconcerned with the traffic, saying that they had not noticed much of an effect, good or bad.
Terry Frank, the owner of No Place Like Home, which sells kitchen accessories, said the traffic does not hinder business and added that perhaps the drivers notice his store while they are stuck.
"It’s backed up all the time," he said.
Denise Method, the co-owner of Kids Collection, agrees that the traffic has not kept customers away but it has not brought in lots of customers either.
"I wouldn’t say the traffic is killing us," she said.
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The developer pursuing a major project at the Park City Mountain Resort base area intends to incorporate a paid-parking system as a key measure in the efforts to reduce the amount of traffic the new lodging and commercial spaces would generate.