The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) will soon embark on a planning effort with Grand County and the City of Moab to find concrete solutions to local traffic congestion.
Using $300,000 in state funds earmarked for the Arches Region, UDOT officials say they will study and analyze different transportation improvement projects that could help alleviate congestion and increase economic development.
“Visitation to Arches is close to two million now. You’re seeing growth and that growth brings cars, brings congestion and brings challenges to the area,” said Rick Torgerson, Region Four Director at UDOT. “Moab is almost a year-round destination, not a seasonal destination, and that certainly puts a strain on the local infrastructure.”
Earlier this year, the state legislature allocated $100 million in funding to UDOT specifically for “recreation hot spots.” According to UDOT, the funds must be used in areas across the state that have significant economic development impacts associated with recreation and tourism — and also have needs for congestion mitigation.
In response to this available funding, Grand County and Moab established a joint regional mobility committee, recognizing, according to Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells, “an opportunity.”
“This opportunity has given the city and the county a natural incentive to get on the same page in terms of transportation planning and producing a plan so that moving forward we can collaboratively start to knock these projects out,” Wells said. “It’s a difference of being proactive and being reactive.”
Wells said he would like to explore an alternative route for truck traffic, noting that a “broad range” of congestion issues center around the overlap of U.S. Route 191 with Main Street.
“When we started this process I was specifically targeting an alternate truck route and I think that that’s something that will continue to be a critical issue,” Wells said. “The pedestrian, bicycle safety, the lack of parking, all of those things are direct symptoms of having the state highway overlap our downtown area and our Main Street.”
After an appeal for funding by Grand County and Moab, the state transportation commission unanimously approved the $300,000 allocation to UDOT’s Arches Region on Oct. 12, using a portion of their $100 million hotspot-funding stream.
According to UDOT Communications Manager Kevin Kitchen, the state agency will work closely with the regional mobility committee to identify and analyze traffic mitigation projects.
“We’re going to be there as a technical resource to them,” Kitchen said. “We’re going to bring forward some tools they can use to help them come to consensus. There’s a program we use that helps locals determine their own criteria to say what’s important to them and brings out different viewpoints … it may be a several-meeting-process as they work through the criteria.”
In an August letter to UDOT, Grand County and Moab outlined the need for a “forward-thinking plan” that could address three major areas: regional access to the Moab area, local access to recreation amenities and “the downtown core,” as well as freight traffic impacts.
“While some pieces of the mobility puzzle are in place, the region has a thoughtful plan for non-motorized recreation — for instance — others are not,” the joint governing bodies stated. “The potential for transit is untapped, parking infrastructure planning is haphazard, and utilizing data to enhance the visitor experience by communicating real-time information about resource availability is unrealized. Changes that will foster economic development, provide additional transportation options, and enhance accessibility to and within the downtown core are all closely linked to this planning effort.”
Moab City Manager David Everitt, a member of the regional mobility committee, says there are many potential projects to explore, from downtown parking garages, to pedestrian and bicycle improvements, as well as public transit.
“We know we want to do a regional long-term plan,” Everitt said. “Does that include transit? Non-motorized transportation? All that hasn’t been decided yet. The first step that is … to make sure we’re working closely with UDOT to figure out the contours of what that plan would look like.”
Speaking before the state transportation commission in September, Everitt described infrastructure challenges resulting from a “wildly successful” tourism economy.
“The ‘Mighty Five’ campaign, the ‘Road to Mighty’ campaign, and even Grand County’s own ‘Discover Moab’ campaign have just been wildly successfully beyond people’s expectations even locally,” Everitt said. “We welcome that as a community 100 percent,” Everitt said. “But it does certainly bring its challenges … we really need to engage in a regional mobility and transportation planning effort and we have not as a community really done that.”
Everitt told The Times-Independent that he is encouraged by the state transportation commission’s $300,000 allocation to the Arches Region.
“We’re certainly excited about the fact that the [transportation] commission recognizes the need and was willing to put some resources into looking at our congestion,” Everitt said. “They recognize we have some congestion issues and they want to help us with that.”
Everitt expects “significant” public participation opportunities throughout this process, especially as the regional mobility committee and UDOT move forward with identifying potential traffic mitigation projects.