Teton county pushes park on path
Grand Teton may take money from path project to build Gros Ventre Junction roundabout.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 31, 2012
Teton County commissioners and community pathway advocates are challenging Grand Teton National Park’s tentative plans to divert funds from a multi-use path between Moose and Antelope Flats.
The 1.5-mile stretch of pathway is included in Grand Teton’s 2007 transportation plan, but it is looking increasingly unlikely because of a funding shortfall, park officials have said in recent weeks.
The path would complete an approximately 17-mile bicycle-friendly loop east of Highway 26/89/191 using Gros Ventre Road, Mormon Row and the Antelope Flats Road.
Because of the high cost of a bridge to span Ditch Creek, park officials say they need about $2 million more to complete the project.
Instead, the $2.7 million already available for the pathway could be reallocated to a traffic project at Gros Ventre Junction, Grand Teton spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said.
Grand Teton officials are painting the Gros Ventre Junction project as one that’s consistent with the park’s celebrated pathway system.
“When we opened phase two of the pathways this year, what we found is that there is a pretty significant safety concern regarding bicyclists and pedestrians using Gros Ventre Junction,” Gary Pollack, Grand Teton’s management assistant, said in an interview earlier this month. “The point is that the issue that we’re trying to address is related to pedestrian and bicycle safety.”
Teton County commissioners and pathway proponents in the community have criticized that rationale.
“We want to go on the record as opposing the use of pathway funds to dress up what sounds like a traffic-calming project as a pathway project and change the priorities previously expressed to the community,” County Commission Chairman Ben Ellis said in a letter to Grand Teton Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott.
Jackson-based Friends of Pathways have supported the county.
Anzelmo-Sarles said that so far “$30,000 to $35,000” of the $2.93 million originally set aside for the pathway has been spent on analysis for new infrastructure at the Gros Ventre Junction, possibly a roundabout. Another $200,000 has been spent planning and designing the 1-mile Moose-to-Antelope Flats pathway, she said, and it’s likely more expenses will be incurred.
By comparison, the town of Jackson spent less than double that on planning and designing 6 miles of pathway north Jackson north to the Gros Ventre River, said Tim Young, former director of Friends of Pathways and the original chairman of Teton County’s Pathways Task Force.
“All the design costs total $355,512,” Young said in an email. “That’s to design 6 miles of pathways, long sections of retaining walls along wetlands and the Gros Ventre bridge.
“The park does one mile and crosses a little crick for half that amount,” Young added. “That’s a different scale of expenses.”
The connection to Antelope Flats would be a “terrific addition” and “an important near-term step” for the park’s pathway system, Young said. Without it, cyclists could be deterred from riding a 17-mile loop in the park.
The route circles from park headquarters at Moose, south along a path separated from Highway 26/89/191 that Grand Teton completed this summer. At the intersection with the Gros Ventre Road, the route turns east to follow the road to Kelly.
The speed limit is lower on the Gros Ventre Road than on the highway, and traffic is much lighter.
From Kelly, the route turns north along another lightly traveled rural road to Antelope Flats, then west back to the highway.
But at the highway, cyclists would have to brave high-speed traffic to get back to Moose if the short path segment is not completed.
Young, instrumental in developing many miles of pathway in the valley, questioned how the park couldn’t afford to complete the loop.
“There’s an easy way around this, I guarantee you,” Young said. “It’s only a mile from Moose Junction to the Antelope Flats junction, and a mile of pathway shouldn’t cost more than $600,000, and certainly it shouldn’t be more than $700,000.”
But while Ditch Creek is a diminutive seasonal wash, Pollack said, it creates a depression that is a riparian zone and an animal migration corridor that would require a 500-foot-long bridge.
After consulting with pathway engineers, Young said he believes there are easy alternatives.
“Not impacting wetlands is a really good idea,” he said, “but I think there’s got to be a way to do some sort of retaining wall.”
By extending and stabilizing the east shoulder of the highway, a retaining wall could allow the pathway to share the roadbed, negating the need for a bridge, Young said.
“A retaining wall should be several hundred thousands of dollars, not several million dollars,” he said.
Anzelmo-Sarles acknowledged that a retaining wall-like structure was a less expensive option that was on the table.
“The challenge is that there are wildlife considerations,” the spokeswoman said. “There are more challenges in a national park. Whatever we end up doing would have to meet a variety of conditions.”
Grand Teton will have to use the $2.7 million in funding it has remaining for the Moose-to-Antelope Flats pathway by 2014 or it will lose the money, Anzelmo-Sarles said. Key decisions will be guided by three small studies, called “value analyses,” that will be conducted over the next two months, she said.
“There will be three different value analyses completed,” she said. “One is on the Gros Ventre for bicycle safety, one is for the Ditch Creek bridge and one is to decide how to use that money.”
The third value analysis “tells you how to get the most bang for your buck,” she said.
Young called for transparency.
“They’re hop-skipping around with their design money,” he said. “The public has no idea what they’re doing, and everyone deserves an understanding.”