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Walking upgrades ‘would add up’

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

A new sidewalk, perhaps a redone crossing, maybe a pedestrian tunnel.

Mark Vlasic admits they "would add up."

Vlasic, the City Hall consultant drafting a wide-ranging plan to make Park City friendlier to walkers, bicyclists and others not driving cars, is readying his findings and says it would cost millions of dollars if the local government wants to make all the improvements considered.

He acknowledges some of the work, such as fixing potholes, would be inexpensive but others could be pricey. Vlasic on Monday had not completed a report that was scheduled for release at an open house planned on Tuesday night. The report is anticipated to be a pivotal document in his long-running research. It is expected to rank many of the improvements Parkites requested during a series of earlier open houses.

But the improvements hinge on support from the Park City Council, which is expected to consider them during upcoming budget talks, slated for the spring. It will be up to the elected officials to earmark money for the improvements.

"Every action you take, there are repercussions," Vlasic says. "Just how much does it cost to build a bridge, build a tunnel?"

The discussions could be especially noteworthy when the consultant and the elected officials consider crossings along Kearns Boulevard, which is part of the state highway system and also known as S.R. 248.

Vlasic says his team considered seven alternatives for pedestrian crossings along the road. He planned to present the options and their price tags at the Tuesday meeting, which was scheduled after The Park Record’s deadline. He says the least expensive is a pedestrian signal and the most expensive is a pedestrian tunnel under Kearns Boulevard.

Parkites requested the upgrades during a series of earlier open houses, which were well attended and produced scores of ideas for throughout the city. The consultant then ranked the ideas, producing the information that was scheduled for release on Tuesday night.

Vlasic says the improvements could stretch for a decade and some could be tied to future road improvements.

"It’s not all going to happen in this first year," he says.

Joe Kernan, a Park City Councilman, says he would likely agree to spend between $500,000 and $1 million annually on upgrades and says up to 20 percent of City Hall’s expected budget surplus, a figure that is not yet known, should be put toward the improvements.

He says the government should be cautious before it commits funding for more expensive upgrades and says City Hall should proceed with the pricey projects, such as pedestrian tunnels or bridges, if they are the only option.

He is unconvinced bridges or tunnels will be successful along Kearns Boulevard. He says people cross the busy street at numerous places and they might not use them if they are not convenient.

"A lot of people won’t use it . . . there’s still a fair bit of convincing," Kernan says.

However, he envisions a tunnel underneath Bonanza Drive at the western end of the Rail Trail would be successful. It is likely that Vlasic will address the Rail Trail-Bonanza Drive intersection and many people targeted that location during the open houses.

City Hall agreed to conduct the Vlasic study during budget hearings in 2006, after Parkites pressed for improvements to walking and bicycling trails and routes. Officials have long been proud of the city’s trails system, especially popular with mountain bikers and other cyclists, but the critics argued that they are not well designed for people wanting to get around the city.

Making Park City friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists, the supporters say, would lessen traffic and be good for the environment. They say Parkites and tourists would drive less if there were more options for walkers and bicyclists.

Roger Harlan, another City Councilman, says he is interested in crossing lights and the Rail Trail crossing at Bonanza Drive. He is reluctant, however, to estimate how much money he wants spent on the improvements each year.

"These grand plans are often modified or conditioned by how much money you have," he admits.

He says, for instance, if it is found crossing guards could be effective, money could be saved by not installing pedestrian overpasses or tunnels.

"There’s a lot of demands for the dollars," Harlan says. "We’re not (the) Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."


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