Editorial: Summit County Council should accelerate slowly in bus system talks
It’s days like the Fourth of July that make commuters wish there was another way to get into Park City.
Fortunately, county officials are working on a fix. As part of a multi-jurisdictional effort stemming from the now-defunct Mountain Accord, they’re evaluating ways to reduce congestion on S.R. 224 without simply building additional lanes and inviting even more vehicle traffic.
The process recently took another step forward, with consultants identifying a bus rapid transit system, placing dedicated lanes on either side of the road for buses to bypass traffic, as the best option. Last week, the Summit County Council agreed to explore the concept further.
Commuters shouldn’t put their cars up for sale just yet, but the idea is intriguing enough — and the problems on S.R. 224 are bad enough — that the county is right to give it a close look. According to the consultants, the system would run between Kimball Junction and Kearns Boulevard and would initially average between 540 and 1,110 riders daily. Ridership would more than double on heavy-traffic days and top out at around 5,400 riders, they say.
That’s a lot of drivers off of S.R. 224, particularly during special events, when congestion is typically the worst. For reference, S.R. 224’s average daily vehicle volume was in the low to mid 30,000s during the peak seasons in 2013, according to a 2014 Mountain Accord report. The ability to incorporate the existing Electric Xpress buses is another perk, and the system would also provide service to current and future park-and-ride lots, like the one being built in Ecker Hill to capture commuters from the Salt Lake Valley.
The proposal already has a measure of community support, as the public selected it among a handful of alternatives during the study’s outreach phase. But the devil, as always, is in the dollars. The system would cost a hefty $62 million. And though the consultants are confident millions in federal grants could foot a large chunk of the cost, such an outlay requires an unassailable proof of concept.
Before the elected officials were to sign off on the system, they’d need to show that it will hit its ridership target and demonstrate how much of a real-world difference that would actually make on S.R. 224. They’d also need to be prepared to convince would-be riders that taking the bus rapid transit is at least as convenient as driving a car into town.
That’s no small task.
The Summit County Council, though, seems to understand that. At a meeting last week, multiple members expressed reservations about how effective the system would be before ultimately signing off on continuing to explore it.
As long as officials remain cautious, they are right to consider the concept. If it can actually alleviate the headache that driving on S.R. 224 has become, commuters on the Fourth of July and other busy days in future years will thank them.
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You may not have noticed it if you’ve been too busy soaking up summer, but the Park City Council race is underway. Now is the time to start paying attention.