Clyde: Traffic studies continue to study
Now that ski season is over, traffic flow is not a problem. Take several hundred resort employees out of the mix, plus all the skiers, and traffic levels drop. Hotel occupancy is way down this time of year, along with restaurant volume. So the number of vehicles serving those businesses also drops. It’s quite pleasant. It won’t last. The summer season isn’t all that far off, and the skier traffic will be replaced with the softball girls, mountain bikers, and concert-goers. Construction isn’t as seasonal as it used to be, but that will pick up in the summer, too. But for now, aside from road maintenance projects, traffic is moving.
The city and county are working together to find solutions. One of the foundational questions is surprisingly obvious, but also not as easily answered. Where does the traffic come from and where is it going? You can’t always tell by looking at it. If the car in front of you has skis on the roof, you can make assumptions about where they are going. It’s a safe bet the cement mixer isn’t on its way to the movie theater. But managing traffic is pretty difficult if you don’t know where people started and where they want to end up. If the bulk of our traffic is people who live at Kimball Junction commuting to Main Street, it’s an entirely different problem than if it is people living in Duchesne working at Kimball Junction.
It turns out it is all of it. The county’s study found (with kind of suspect precision) that exactly 14,298 people live outside Summit County and commute to jobs here. That’s the inflow from Salt Lake and Heber (and Evanston, Provo, Ogden). At the same time those people are driving in to Summit County, the locals pack up and leave. Much as we all like living here, 11,556 of us start the day by pouring a cup of coffee and driving somewhere outside Summit County for work. That’s mostly the Salt Lake commute. So that’s 25,000 people who trade places every morning. Then there are 9,313 of us who live and work in Summit County — but not necessarily in the same place. That’s the daily commute from Kamas and Oakley to the west side where the jobs are, in addition to people who might drive a couple of miles from Silver Springs to Redstone.
This would be easy if we lived and worked in the same place. But we don’t, and unless something cataclysmic happens, it’s unlikely that the cashiers at the grocery stores will be buying houses within walking distance to their jobs. So we are a commuter society. That isn’t going to change.
The numbers being tossed around to mitigate the problem — nobody is talking solutions — are pretty stunning. The county seeks $20-$25 million for their wish list. The City’s list ranges between $13 and $20 million, which seems like a comfortable margin of error. Combined, that looks like real money, even in the twisted economics of resort communities. It has to come from somewhere, and there will likely be increases in both sales and property taxes.
So what kind of transportation bliss do we buy for $45 million? That doesn’t buy much in terms of new road capacity. And radical widening of our roads isn’t what we want, anyway. I was here when 224 was widened from two lanes, without a shoulder, to the current runway. They closed it for a year while they built it, so the grand opening was really one of those "home make-over" reveal moments. It was absolutely sickening. I wouldn’t recommend going back to two lanes, but widening it to six is a non-starter.
So $45 million probably buys us all a seat on a bus. Bus service from Kamas and Heber, satellite parking lots like that jewel at Richardson Flats, where the lights glisten all night even though there is no reason, or even way, to park there. Then they have to figure out a way to efficiently move people from the satellite parking into their destinations without stopping every 100 yards.
It’s easier and a lot more fun to look at sexy new technology that might be available in 30 years, than to deal with the problems presented by Monday morning’s commute. It’s great to be looking at wild alternatives like monorails. We shouldn’t preclude those in the process. One of the really short-sighted decisions years ago was obliterating the railroad right of way through Parleys Canyon to make room for the freeway.
But while we’re waiting for the hyper loop to be invented, or self-driving cars to function on snow-covered roads, Monday morning’s commute will happen right on schedule. Can we figure out how to put a Band-Aid on Kimball Junction and 248? Now?
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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