Tom Clyde: No really good options
I think I’m about ready for Christmas. But there is this nagging sense that I should mow the lawn. It’s looking pretty shaggy. Winter still isn’t happening, and it’s getting late enough in the season to be a concern. I’ve got green grass around the house, and the hay is perking up. The horses are completely happy eating what’s out in the pasture. It’s finally cold enough for the resorts to make snow for a significant part of the day, and maybe they can recover the time lost to those 50-degree days. But a little help from Mother Nature would be appreciated.
Skiing has been better than you would expect from looking at your green lawn. The snow, all 20 inches of machine-made glory, has stayed soft because it hasn’t been cold. So it’s like early spring conditions. Some years with a start like this, it can be solid ice. What’s open is good, the rub is what’s open. It’s very hard to make Claimjumper last more than a couple of hours, even with the best of company. Deer Valley has some steeper runs open on Bald Mountain, with the trade-off that the steeper terrain gets scraped off pretty quickly. The holiday traffic on the limited terrain is going to be a challenge.
So maybe I should mow the lawn and set up the croquet course again.
The County is working on a long-range transportation plan. It’s always a good idea to try to anticipate things and plan accordingly, though the projections are always somewhat of a guess. The key assumption behind it is that Summit County’s population will grow by 85 percent by 2040. Dreadful as it sounds, it also seems entirely possible. Look back 25 years, and it could be conservative. All of that additional growth will bring additional traffic to a road system that can’t handle the traffic right now.
With a huge investment in new buses, bike paths and roads, they predict traffic won’t get any worse, provided they can get 45 percent of all travel to occur on buses. Hate to burst the bubble, but that isn’t going to happen. So that gets to Plan B, which involves lots of extremely expensive new roads, new interchanges (maybe we can re-build Kimball Junction again — fifth time’s the charm), and still need to rely on a lot higher percentage of people riding the bus. All of that is very expensive, pretty ugly, and also unlikely to get built on a pace that keeps up with the growth. Like the air in Salt Lake? It could happen here.
The one option that is conspicuously absent is the most logical one — quit building. We really don’t have to accept an 85 percent population increase in the next 25 years. It’s not just traffic and roads. It’s water and sewer and schools and air pollution and on and on. Just say "no."
That’s not easily done in a legal framework that assumes that every landowner has the right to inflict as much density on his neighbors as possible. We sort of regulate it, but when push comes to shove, the presumption always falls in favor of development. But is that some immutable natural law, or something we have a choice in?
There is a new city with a population of about 7,000 approved between Home Depot and the Promontory sewer plant. There was a deliberate choice between that owner’s right to develop his property, and the rest of us wasting hours sitting in traffic or planning our lives around the schedule of a bus that is mired in the same traffic. We lost. That’s approved and will happen. The paint isn’t dry on the confusing arrows in the new roundabout at Burt Brothers, and it is already undersized for what’s currently approved, let alone what might come next.
Doubling the population sounds like a really expensive and very bad idea. Do we have to go down that road? Stopping growth causes all kinds of unpleasant market impacts, and people have to live someplace, so it pushes the growth somewhere else. But can’t we at least add "don’t double in size" to the list of options that include fly-over ramps and building additional lanes on country roads, and forced busing?
Other than being noisy, smelly, slow, and inconvenient, there’s nothing wrong with a bus. It’s pretty difficult to run more than about 20-minute frequency on most routes, and even then, the buses are usually empty. Convenient scheduling and economic operation are always in conflict. A transportation plan that assumes that our doubled population will spend an hour a day waiting for buses seems flawed. The cost of building parking is astronomical, and paid parking has been culturally unacceptable.
There aren’t any good options.
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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A reader says the solution to Park City’s traffic woes is in the grasp of employers like Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Company.