Traffic just might be the resorts’ toughest challenge this season
It may have been one of those rare ‘perfect storms’ whose timing creates the worst possible outcome. But it may also have been just the first of many colossal traffic jams to come this winter.
Monday afternoon, the season’s first major snowstorm rolled into Park City just as the ski area shut down for the day and residents began their evening commutes. Traffic was predictably heavy especially on S.R. 224 northbound and S.R. 248 eastbound, and then it all came to a halt.
In the interest of motorists’ safety The Utah Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the Utah Highway Patrol, closed portions of U.S. 40, including the north and south on ramps at S.R. 248. According to UDOT spokesman Nile Easton, there were white-out conditions and numerous vehicle slide-offs hindered plowing efforts.
Traffic leaving Park City headed eastward immediately began to back up and quickly came to a standstill. The two-hour long hold-up set off a chain reaction of slowdowns and pileups from the U.S. 40 overpass to Park Avenue and south onto the Belt Route. A posse of Park City policemen and UHP deputies bore the brunt of the disaster, urging frustrated motorists on in directions they didn’t want to go in miserable blizzard conditions.
Suffice it to say, the winter welcome mat was out but it wasn’t drivable and the result was exactly the kind of urban gridlock that most people come to Park City to avoid. Fortunately, S.R. 224, which is usually the more dysfunctional of the city’s two entrances, kept moving, this time. If, however, there had been an incident on S.R. 224, the city would have been cut off.
Keeping the city’s arteries unclogged is especially critical, not only because it is the entryway for guests but also because the community is so dependent on laborers from surrounding areas like Kamas, Heber and Salt Lake. On snowy days during the ski season, the need for workers to get to their posts safely and on time is even more urgent.
Easton emphasized that UDOT does not take road closures lightly and said the department is considering installing Virtual Message Sign Boards to help divert traffic to alternate routes when necessary. In the meantime, though, city, county and state officials need to continue searching for ways to deal with the increasing traffic loads including research on roundabouts, public transit and possibly park-and-ride lots at the city’s outskirts.
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Skier, mountaineer, environmental activist and Park City resident Caroline Gleich writes that Andy Beerman’s commitment to the climate is vital to Park City’s future.