Tom Clyde: Widening S.R. 248 is the least of our problems
Highway 224 was widened around 35 years ago. It had been a two-lane road, with no shoulder and a yellow line separating the opposing traffic. The road was poorly constructed, and in the spring, the frost would mound up, making it a very bumpy road. The local joke was that if you saw somebody driving in a straight line on 224, they were surely drunk. Anybody trying to control their car was being jostled around by the frost heaves.
We sort of knew what was coming. We had seen pictures and diagrams. To complete the construction, a big part of the road was closed completely for a few months, so we never really got to see the work in progress. Then suddenly it opened, and everybody was sick. I’m used to it now, but that transition from 2 lanes to a swath of asphalt wider than some New England states was sickening. But we needed it. The old road couldn’t handle the traffic, even then. It was dangerous. The “fix” was ugly as a road can get, but absolutely necessary.
I went to UDOT’s open house on the proposal to “fix” S.R. 248 from U.S. 40 to Park Avenue. It’s a problem road. Where it narrows to two lanes, things just grind to a halt. There are Band-Aid fixes. Restriping it for two lanes inbound would buy some time, but isn’t a long term fix. One of the UDOT people said all that would do is move the congestion farther west to Comstock or Bonanza. So their preferred design alternative is a pretty heavy duty widening. It would be four lanes, with breakdown lanes, bike lanes, turning lanes, left turn stacking lanes. It would be a whole lot of asphalt. The $60 million price tag would buy us relative traffic bliss until 2040.
Nobody at the meeting seemed to have a positive reaction to the project. It was hated for different reasons, but found no love. Prospector residents were concerned about noise, air pollution, and general congestion. Rightly so. Others observed that getting all those cars into town more efficiently won’t solve anything because there really isn’t anywhere to park. We learned that lesson last winter
The City had people there with information about possible park and ride lots at U.S. 40 to replace the unusable lot they already have at Richardson Flat. The City believes that getting people to park outside of town and transfer to a bus is the solution. We have some real experience with that. During the Olympics, the parking lot was near Home Depot. You parked there, and got on a bus that took you directly to the Olympic venues. It worked great, at all kinds of strange hours. The difference was that you never waited for a bus. The bus waited for you. They had a fleet of several hundred buses, and there was always one ready to board, and another one lined up behind that one. They were seldom full, so the ride was as comfortable as a ride on a bus can be.
Nobody has presented a plausible scenario where that would work as an everyday operation. Between 8 and 9, there are thousands of skiers trying to get on the mountain more or less at the same time. The 15,000 employees who drive in every day arrive at the same time. There aren’t enough buses to make that happen, and if there were, there aren’t enough drivers to drive them. Trying to move 10,000 skiers in an hour by bus just isn’t going to happen. So getting on the mountain, or getting to work, will involve an extra half hour or an hour spent waiting for a bus. I just don’t see how it will work without an Olympic pot of money to draw from. If that’s the new reality, it’s time to move to Tabiona.
Charging for parking would force the issue. Skiers may be able to afford it, but it becomes a tax on the workforce that really can’t afford it. It would make it that much harder to staff a business if the process of getting to work is made longer, expensive, and unpleasant.
One of the design alternatives UDOT was required to study is the “no build” option. That means doing nothing to the road. There’s another “no build” option worth looking at. What never gets studied is the idea that we are full, and need to quit expanding beyond the ability to provide basic services. The UDOT plan claims to have taken into account the development around Jordanelle, Silver Creek Village, and proposed hotels that need a thousand workers who have to commute because there’s no affordable housing in town. But relying on 15,000 workers commuting into the area each morning isn’t sustainable. Lovely as Park City is, it is broken and out of balance.
I don’t know how to fix it, but widening 248 is the least of our problems.
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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Tom Kelly reflects on ski season. “Saturday ski groups didn’t work this year. We waited longer in lift lines, often silently. More people discovered our personal secret access points. But we survived. And we skied.”