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1-way road hit with rage
Reactions sharp, immediate against park plan to alter Moose-Wilson flow.
By Kevin Huelsmann and Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 17, 2012
Grand Teton National Park officials say they haven’t decided whether they’re going to eliminate southbound traffic on a stretch of Moose-Wilson Road, but it’s the only option they’re shopping around.
Park officials “have been focusing their attention” on the proposal and are “not actively talking about other options,” park management assistant Gary Pollock said. A park spokeswoman said Tuesday the only other option on the table is to not doing anything.
However, they’re still taking input on a proposal to test a ban on southbound traffic between the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve and the Granite Canyon trailhead, a 2.8-mile stretch of road. They haven’t heard any viable alternatives.
Park officials said the one-way rule would be only a test. They likely would review the results of the policy after one year to determine whether it was effective, Pollock said.
“What’s been interpreted is that it’s going to happen,” Pollock said last week. “From our view, it’s something we would like to do next summer, but we’re not doing it for sure yet.”
Many groups were caught off guard when they were told of the park’s plans. They’re worried that limiting traffic on the road could push cars onto other county roads, hurt Teton Village’s economy and set back valley transportation goals.
“This will no doubt economically isolate Teton Village and serve as a deterrent for tourists to stay, or even visit, the village,” Teton Village Association Chairman Jim Terry and Resort District Chairman Junie Fuchs said in a letter to county commissioners.
Teton Village businesses already see a drop in visitors when Moose-Wilson Road closes, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Jerry Blann said. Preventing drivers from returning to the village after entering the park would only exacerbate that problem.
“It doesn’t make any sense to close it one way, going north,” he said. “People will have to circle around at the end of the day, whether it’s on Spring Gulch or somewhere else. It disrupts the normal transportation pattern.”
Friends of Pathways representatives said forcing people to drive farther runs contrary to larger transportation goals being promoted.
“More pressure on roadways outside of the park boundaries such as Highway 89, Highway 22 and Highway 390, where elk migration is heavy and moose and bison regularly cross, would put area wildlife more in danger,” Pathways Executive Director Mike Welch and Pathways Board of Trustees President Maggie Gibson said in a letter.
“The added consumption of fuel and related emissions for longer vehicle trips are not fitting for a community that is working successfully toward better energy-efficiency,” they wrote
Traffic on the road, which connects Moose and Teton Village, is starting to degrade visitors’ experience and the condition of the road itself, park officials said. Traffic volume has doubled since the 1980s, Pollock said.
Between 1,800 and 2,000 vehicles travel the road daily during peak summer times, Pollock said. Data included in a 2007 environmental study says daily summertime traffic on Moose-Wilson Road can reach 1,600 vehicles on the south end and 2,400 on the north end.
The road is closed in winter.
“The reality is that the Moose-Wilson Road was never designed or constructed to carry the volumes of traffic that are currently present nor to serve as a primary transportation corridor,” Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said in a letter to county commissioners.
Gibson Scott described the road as having a “narrow width, rural atmosphere, slow speeds and closeness of the natural landscape.”
“Within the National Park System, park roads are generally not intended to provide fast and convenient transportation,” Gibson Scott said in a letter. “Rather, they are intended to serve park purposes by enhancing the quality of visitors’ experience while providing for safe and efficient travel with minimal or no impacts on park resources.
“With that in mind, one of the most challenging issues for the park concerns the future management of the Moose-Wilson road corridor,” she wrote.
The park has met with the town and county, Friends of Pathways, Teton Village representatives, state transportation officials and conservation groups. Many said they were clearly told the plan was a done deal.
“Our impression was that we were informed that the policy was going to be initiated in the spring of 2013,” Gibson said. “That was pretty clear.”
Since, there has been uncertainty about the timing of the proposal. Some have been unclear about whether officials have already made a decision.
“We need to see if we can all understand a little better what is being proposed,” said Mayor Mark Barron, who is worried that limiting traffic could create congestion in downtown Jackson. “Maybe like a fact-finding mission.”
Town and county officials said they understand the need to protect the park’s assets. Even though they don’t support limiting traffic to one direction, they want to work with park officials to find some middle ground.
“It should not be playing out as a matter of all or nothing,” Barron said. “This is our national park, and we clearly mirror the values of our national park system in our comprehensive plan. I think dialogue with [Gibson Scott], [county commission Chairman Ben Ellis] and myself could go a long way.”
County commissioners criticized park leaders for taking a unilateral approach. They sent letters to Gibson Scott and National Park Service Regional Director John Wessels, asking them to reconsider the proposal.
They said park officials should take more time to vet plans with the public.
“We don’t know what the plan is,” Ellis said. “We don’t know how these lanes change, how traffic is addressed, how emergency services will be handled, how oncoming traffic on a dirt road heading into pedestrian and bike traffic would be managed. ... The implications of all of that need to be understood.”
Park officials could finalize a decision about traffic on Moose-Wilson within the next several months, they said.
“There’s no hangup on doing this next summer,” spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said. “But this is something that needs to be addressed, and we need to start having conversations.”
Path to one-way road
The precursor to the plan, an environmental impact statement, lists seven options under an “adaptive management plan” that’s designed to alleviate congestion without altering Moose-Wilson’s rustic character. Reversible flow, time of day restrictions, a cap on the number of vehicles and one-way northbound traffic — which is now being proposed — were all options being considered, among others.
The adaptive management plan is detailed in approximately one page of the 368-page document.
Several public comment periods followed, and Grand Teton rolled out its record of decision in March 2007.
The decision doesn’t give concrete plans, stating that the National Park Service “may test a number of different strategies identified in the [adaptive management plan] for managing traffic.”
“These strategies, if implemented, will be seasonal and/or temporary,” the document states. “Under all strategies, two-way traffic will be maintained from Moose to the [Laurance S. Rockefeller] Preserve and from Granite Canyon Entrance Station to the Granite Canyon Trailhead.”
The winning strategy would be based on data collected during 2006 and 2007, but the time frame for implementation is not included in the decision document.
The decision ensured that the selected strategy would be publicized in advance of implementation, which is where park officials are today.
“We’re implementing something that was in the plan,” Grand Teton’s management assistant Gary Pollock said. “Right now we’re meeting with various stakeholders in the community.”