Candidates for the nonpartisan Jackson Town Council will have to make tough choices on transportation issues, especially as state funding dwindles. The proposals they choose to support will have lasting implications for the town.
Anne Schuler is a first-time candidate for Jackson Town Council. She sits on the board of directors for the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center and runs Brilliantly Done cleaning service.
She believes the town’s transportation strategies are solid, and if elected she would likely continue the course.
“START ridership to Teton Village in the winter serves both local residents and visitors well,” she said. “Ridership on the town shuttle also is working well. The late-night shuttle, I think, starts to address safety concerns with DUIs.”
That being said, she pointed out a few areas where improvements need to be made.
“Traffic congestion in town, on West Broadway and on Highway 22 is an obvious problem,” she said, “which only can be fixed by either reducing the number of cars on the road or reconstructing the Y.
“As we improve routes like Highway 22 we should consider solutions such as a HOV lane,” she said. “Also businesses can provide bus passes to employees to encourage ridership.”
The Integrated Transportation Plan tries to address the problem, and is a good blueprint for addressing transportation issues. But, Schuler said, the plan requires money, which Schuler said should come from a 1 percent general sales tax as well as paid parking.
“I believe the 1 percent tax that is proposed for four years is our best funding option,” she said. “An increased property tax would place an undue burden on property owners.
“A relatively minor source of funding could include charging for overnight parking in the town parking garage.”
Incumbent Jim Stanford has served on the Jackson Town Council for two years. Before becoming a public servant he worked at the News&Guide, where he won national awards for his reporting, and as a river guide.
His work on transportation is largely focused on expanding bus service, both inside and out of town, as well encouraging non-motorized transportation.
“Our transportation system works pretty well for nearly eight months of the year,” Stanford said. “We’ve made great strides with START bus, but there is still room for improvement. … We need to increase bus service between town and Teton Village in summer and better utilize the Stilson parking area as a transit hub.”
Bus service to the national parks, with trailers for bikes, is another way to reduce congestion on North Cache and Town Square, he said. But “START cannot add more commuter service without additional buses, drivers and maintenance support.”
Funding for such projects, Stanford said, should be raised with a general sales tax.
“Revenue from the 1 percent general sales tax will help pay for better roads, improved connectivity of our road network and perhaps more parking, as well as investments in transit and non-motorized transportation.”
Once funded, the programs need to find a way to increase ridership and actually reduce the number of cars on the road.
“One way to improve bus ridership is to streamline the route of the town shuttle, which I spearheaded along with Councilwoman Hailey Morton Levinson. I also spearheaded creation of the Ride2Fly shuttle between the parking garage and Jackson Hole Airport.”
To increase non-motorized transportation around town, Stanford said, “I have worked diligently with the council to build missing sidewalk segments. I also have supported a network of designated bike routes across town and bike parking in key downtown locations.”
Hailey Morton Levinson
Hailey Morton Levinson is completing her first term as a town councilor. She also serves as vice mayor and holds positions on the Energy Conservation Works board of directors as well as the Travel and Tourism board, Chamber of Commerce and Pathways Task Force.
“For a small town we have made significant strides in our transportation system,” she said. “It’s impressive that our START ridership is close to 1 million per year.”
The community has worked hard on the Integrated Transportation Plan, she said.
“It’s a great blueprint of how to deal with transportation demands and gives us benchmarks to check back in on how we are doing and how we can improve,” she said.
“Being open to new routes, more efficient uses of buses, different timetables and a transit hub could be ways to increase ridership. Bike share can also be a way of increasing ridership by users riding to and from bus stops.”
The key to non-motorized transportation, Levinson said, is making sure all types of users feel safe and comfortable.
“I have supported more sidewalks, increased signage and routes for bicycles, and improved snow plowing during my time on the council,” she said.
“In order to reach the transportation goals set by our community of reduced traffic and more alternative transportation, we need a reoccurring funding source not only for capital improvements but also for long-term maintenance and operations.”
Judd Grossman served as planning commissioner for Jackson but left to found the alternative newspaper Planet Jackson Hole. He has closely followed town issues since arriving in Jackson in 1980.
He believes the town is completely off track with the current transportation plan. Public transportation is not a long term-solution, he said. The real answer is upgrading and expanding Jackson’s roadways.
“Multimodal [transportation] is part of the solution,” he said, “but we have to be realistic. Alternative modes handle a very small percentage of our trips: Pathways are a useful recreational amenity, but don’t take many cars off the road; START is useful, but even with its very large budget and ubiquitous buses START only handles about 1 percent of our traffic.
“The elephant in the room is that in order to effectively deal with our steadily worsening traffic problem the real solution is to optimize, expand and connect our roadways.”
Grossman called the Integrated Transportation Plan “fatally flawed.”
“It is completely delusional in its call for quadrupling START ridership in the next 20 years,” he said, “and its request for funding for that chimera has led to the general excise tax increase ballot question, which we must defeat in November.”
The way to improve public transpiration, he said, is not by throwing money at it but by reconfiguring routes and building better planned bus stops.
“The current ‘build it and they will ride’ policy has led to empty buses and wasted taxpayer dollars.”
Jessica Chambers was recently elected as a National Democratic Delegate for Wyoming after working as a caucus leader for Bernie Sanders in Wyoming. Ever since coming to Jackson in 2010 she has followed the town’s issues closely and become involved in multiple advocacy groups.
She believe the town’s transportation plan is a good starting point but believes it should focus first and foremost on the town.
“The Integrated Transportation Plan is pretty thorough and well-thought out,” she said. “We need to stay the course with it and fully commit to the changes. Personally, I’d like to see more ambitious goals with regard to alternative modes of transportation, most especially public transport.”
START should be expanded, she said.
“But first we need to focus on locals, which includes focusing on housing in addition to transportation,” she said. “When people live in the community where they work, they do a better job all around because they’re fully invested in the community; it’s a win-win.”
Increasing non-motorized transportation in town, she said, involves more frequent START service and adding “Local” or HOV lanes. Intelligent zoning and residential density in common sense locations, continuing the expansion of pedestrian-friendly areas, incentivizing alternative modes of transportation and taking actions that deter the use of single-occupancy vehicles are also key.
In terms of funding, Chambers is looking outside the box away from the 1 percent general sales tax.
“Parking fees, permitted parking and adding bus passes are the most obvious means to fund capital improvements and public transportation facilities,” Chambers said. “Other less orthodox ways could be by limiting the required parking spaces in new zoning and opting instead for low-fee-based long-term vehicle storage for residents in exchange for bus passes.”