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Traffic quandary perplexes

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Kent Cashel seems to expect more traffic in Park City nowadays.

And others should, too, he says.

But Cashel, the No. 2 person in the Park City Public Works Department, maintains City Hall is devising ambitious plans to deal with the traffic, which lots of Parkites say is getting worse.

Cashel, speaking recently during a transportation summit at The Yarrow that drew about 50 government officials and private-sector leaders, said traffic continues to be troublesome to Park City officials. He said growth in the region will continue, the terrain makes it difficult to build new roads and, if upgrades are done, they will be expensive.

"It just occurs every day," Cashel said, referring to traffic jams on S.R. 248 and the daily departure of skiers from Park City’s resorts.

Cashel was one of a roster of officials who addressed the summit, which also featured remarks by ski industry leaders and developers. The people at the summit, held as Park City enters the busy ski season, when traffic is usually at its worst, did not make major policy decisions but the event nonetheless highlights the concerns of Parkites, commuters, businesspeople and lawmen.

Complaints about traffic have been widespread in 2006, perhaps more so than before, and the height of the ski season is approaching. Already this ski season there has been at least one major traffic jam, at the end of November, when a snowstorm backed up traffic on S.R. 248 for miles.

In his comments, Cashel reviewed City Hall initiatives but he did not provide details. Much of what he discussed had been publicized previously.

Cashel said there is the possibility of park-and-ride lots someday and said government planners must review the potential increase in traffic when considering a development application, which is the practice of local planners.

He did not discuss park-and-ride lots in depth but there have been long-running talks about such lots. City Hall has not proceeded with a lot but it is expected that the local government will eventually choose a spot, probably along the S.R. 248 entryway.

Cashel said City Hall is considering park-and-ride lots during special events and for Park City’s workforce, possibly at Quinn’s Junction, where S.R. 248 intersects with U.S. 40. Also, there is talk about a park-and-ride lot in that area as part of the ongoing negotiations between City Hall and the Empire Pass developer about allowing the Montage hotel at Deer Valley.

A driver heading to park-and-ride lots, sometimes called satellite parking lots, would park their car and take a bus into Park City, keeping the cars off city roads. A park-and-ride system worked most notably in the Park City area during the 2002 Winter Olympics, when spectators were directed to lots outside the city and then bused into Park City for competitions and Games revelry.

Cashel lamented that lots of people drive themselves to Park City, meaning that more cars are traveling to the city. He said, perhaps, the leaders could encourage carpools. He warned that the traffic could hurt the Park City economy if it is not addressed.

People in the audience suggested that City Hall ban parking on Main Street, which they said would discourage drivers from heading into Old Town, and another person mentioned that the lodging industry should urge visitors to take the city’s buses, which do not charge fares, instead of renting cars.

Bill Malone, who leads the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said his team tells people taking trips to the city that they do not need to rent cars and recommends the city’s bus system to the visitors. But he said it is difficult to convince visitors because they are suspicious of public transit.

Jim Doilney, the New Park developer at Kimball Junction, talked about increasing the amount of transportation funding for the area, perhaps through an assessment. If additional money is generated locally, Doilney argued, the federal government might provide more financial help.

"We need more, sooner," Doilney said, adding, "When you show dollars, you show effort."

Another person from the audience wondered if the traffic would not doom Park City’s tourist industry. She claimed public transit is not simple enough for visitors and said the local traffic sometimes creates an inversion, an atmospheric condition that leaves a layer of pollution in the air.

Meanwhile, Bob Wheaton, the president of Deer Valley Resort, touted programs the resort offers its workers, such as providing underground parking for drivers in carpools. He mentioned an employee bus as well.

The summit’s results are difficult to measure but the people there seemed to see the gathering as an ideas session rather than a meeting during which decisions were to be made.

Transportation policies are usually crafted over months or years, they frequently require the approval of at least one governmental agency and they typically need government funding.

Locally, one of the greatest successes has been the expansion of bus routes from Park City to the Snyderville Basin, a complex agreement between City Hall and Summit County officials.

Cashel, from Park City Public Works, says the traffic, although annoying to Parkites and commuters, is not bad compared to big cities. The people visiting from those places, he says, might not notice the local backups.

"Someone from a major city on the East Coast or the L.A. Basin, the perception of traffic is much different," he said. "They’ll laugh when we say we have a traffic problem."


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