Plan marches on, with environmental review next
The Kimball Junction roadway redesign project took another step forward this month, continuing methodically through a decade-long process that seems as slow, in governmental terms, as it does to be stuck in a series of red lights trying to get to the grocery store at 5 p.m. on a ski day.
But Caroline Rodriguez, Summit County’s top transportation planner, said the fact that the process is continuing is itself a good sign, indicating that construction could be on its way.
“The fact that we’ve even completed a corridor plan … it’s a big step,” Rodriguez said.
She was remarking on the Utah Department of Transportation releasing a Kimball Junction Area Plan, a 158-page document that includes three alternatives to fix the traffic woes at the intersection of Interstate 80 and S.R. 224.
It marks the completion of the broader S.R. 224 corridor plan, which includes a bus rapid transit system to shuttle riders from the interstate and adjacent park-and-ride lots to the traffic magnets of Park City’s ski resorts and Main Street.
Paying for and building these projects, however, remain concerns for another day.
The report hasn’t identified exactly what project will be built, but it ruled out one option that was unpopular with community members, and put estimated price tags on the projects that it suggests deserve further study.
Gone is the proposal to construct a road through the Hi-Ute conservation easement west of S.R. 224, which drew public pushback.
The option supported by the Summit County Council remains in the plan. It would bury S.R. 224 and begin interstate on-ramps south of Olympic Parkway, the first of two intersections that drivers hit on their way north from Park City.
It was the costliest of the three options included in the plan, with an estimated price tag of $116.5 million, $20 million of which would be to cover the below-grade roadway.
The three alternatives will now proceed through a significant environmental review, which Rodriguez said could take two years and result in projects that are 60% designed.
These steps are necessary to receive state and federal funding, she added.
The process is designed to eliminate options that aren’t feasible, which was done in the previous phase when officials heard that constructing a road through protected open space was a non-starter for Summit County residents. The environmental review, governed by the National Environmental Policy Act, is designed to evaluate a wide series of potential impacts from constructing the projects and may eliminate a few of the proposals.
In addition to being lengthy, the reviews are costly, but it appears that the state will at least help to pay for the studies.
State legislators included an earmark in a massive infrastructure bill specifically naming as a recipient of funds “an environmental impact study for Kimball Junction in Summit County.”
No price tag, however, was included.
At the time, county officials said that the firm looking to develop more than 1,000 homes at Kimball Junction used their political clout to help deliver the funding.
Members of the public and officials have raised concern about the traffic that would be created by such a project, with most residents already well aware of the particularities of navigating the area.
UDOT officials have said they were surprised to discover that half of the traffic in Kimball Junction is heading to or between the shops and homes in Kimball Junction itself, rather than passing through the area to access the interstate.
The options that were included in the area plan, including the option supported by local officials, attempt to separate local traffic from vehicles passing through the area.
Another option would separate the I-80/S.R. 224 interchange by moving half of it to the west, with one-way frontage roads connecting the two halves. That would cost between $54 and $74 million, depending on whether the project includes roadway improvements outlined in the third option.
That option includes 10 smaller projects that would improve existing infrastructure but keep the Junction’s general layout intact. It would cost $30 million if constructed as one project. The proposals include adding turn lanes, building a pedestrian tunnel and widening roads and on-ramps.
UDOT is leading the project and it is up to that agency and state officials to determine when and if the project is completed, and what is ultimately built. Rodriguez said UDOT officials generally incorporate feedback from local officials and try to solicit feedback from local residents, as well.
“Ultimately, UDOT’s goal is not to build something that the local jurisdiction doesn’t want,” she said. “They want support from the local jurisdiction.”
County councilors have indicated that the county would likely have to contribute funding if the project is to happen anytime soon. Officials have discussed financing techniques including creating a tax increment financing district or a public infrastructure district in the area.
Another funding hope rests on receiving an influx of cash if Salt Lake City lands an upcoming Olympic Games.