From expanded START service to wider roads to safer nonmotorized transit possibilities to personal responsibility, the six candidates for two seats on the Teton County Board of Commissioners offer their opinions and solutions to Jackson Hole’s transportation woes.
Six weeks remain before the Aug. 16 primary election, when voters will decide which commissioner candidates will be on the ballot for the general election in November.
Six people — three Democrats and three Republicans — are running. The primary will determine which two from each party will advance. Voters must declare a party to vote in the primary.
The final four will go head to head in the Nov. 8 general election for two seats on the board.
Chairwoman Barbara Allen, a Republican, holds one seat, though she announced in March that she would not seek re-election.
Commissioner Natalia Macker, whose term is also ending, is running to retain her spot on the board. Macker, a Democrat, was appointed to the position in October after Melissa Turley resigned.
This week the News&Guide asked those seeking a seat on the board to answer questions about transportation. Candidates were asked to share their solutions for curbing traffic as well as their thoughts on transportation funding and alternate forms of transportation.
Greg Epstein, 45, is a Jackson Hole native who is head of production for Teton Gravity Research.
“I would like to see the town and county try other forms of traffic mitigation and public transportation before creating new roads and bypasses,” he said.
Epstein said he is in favor of increasing START service and installing roundabouts for the intersection of Highways 22 and 390, the intersection of Highway 22 and Spring Gulch Road, and the “Y” intersection at Highway 22 and U.S. 89.
“If these ideas are given a fair shot and there are still traffic issues, then as written in the current [Jackson/Teton County Integrated Transportation Plan] the county may be forced to implement other measures,” he said.
He also suggested that new affordable housing projects be required to present public transportation mitigation plans in their initial development phase.
He supports transportation funding being funneled first to increasing START service and a bike-share program, then to replacing stoplights with roundabouts. After those initiatives are addressed, he said, he would support creating “complete START transit hubs” that would include day care centers, conference rooms and work stations, and completing street infrastructure.
His solution to increasing bus ridership is to add service to Melody Ranch, Rafter J, Wilson and the airport and to increase service to commuter communities.
“Additionally, we need to integrate a bike-share program into the town of Jackson to help alleviate unnecessary motor vehicle trips in the urban core,” he said.
Natalia Macker, 32, is an incumbent Teton County commissioner running for re-election. She also is artistic director for Off Square Theatre Company.
Macker said there is “no single solution for curbing traffic” and the community needs to reach a resolution. She said the community needs a variety of stakeholders proposing solutions, and she applauded the Teton County Sheriff’s Office for changing the shifts of some employees to help ease traffic congestion. She also applauded the Teton Village Association and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance for creating a workgroup focused on traffic issues.
“These efforts exemplify how we will keep our community and visitors safely and efficiently moving through the valley,” she said. “We also see a spike in traffic during our main tourism season in the summer, and if we can encourage tourists to walk, bike and bus we can help alleviate some of our traffic pressure.”
Macker said her traffic mitigation priorities include increasing START bus ridership while also improving safety for walkers, bikers, motorists and wildlife.
“The county is moving forward with a wildlife crossings master plan, which is a step in that direction,” she said. “Investing in transportation is investing in the middle class and small businesses that give Teton County its character.”
Macker is “proud” to have voted for the Integrated Transportation Plan that passed last September.
“It represents our community’s effort to take a look at our transportation from a broader, regional perspective and provides an adaptive framework, enabling responsiveness to our needs over time,” Macker said. “The ITP is also critical in laying the foundation for how we can work with our partners, especially WYDOT and Grand Teton National Park.”
Sandy Shuptrine, 71, served as a county commissioner from 1991 to 2003. Now retired, she has held a seat on the Teton Conservation District board for the past six years.
“My main suggestion for curbing traffic,” she said, “is this: Thoughtfully consider your own travel habits and whether your personal convenience trumps community function at a particular moment in time.”
She suggested motorists consider avoiding rush hour, main routes and left-hand turns.
“Approximately 10 trips per day per vehicle are attributed to each household by traffic planners,” she said. “Will a little advance planning allow for combining errands or carpooling? Or would your bike or feet work for what you need to do?”
Shuptrine said cutting down on just a trip or two a day would cut personal impact by 10 to 20 percent, something she called “a good start.” Using START services more frequently is also key to curbing traffic, she said.
Shuptrine promised that, if elected, she will carefully review various transportation initiatives to determine which offer the most “bang for our bucks.” She also said she supports expanding funding for START service.
“The best way to increase START ridership is to serve more neighborhoods and commuter destinations, improving convenience and assuring easy connections to destinations at a fare that is attractive,” she said. “This may include bike racks on buses.”
Lisa daCosta, 51, is the owner of Cache Creek Financial.
“I don’t think there is a solution to ‘curb traffic’ when we have the right to own and drive cars,” daCosta said. “The county commission has no enumerated powers to control barking dogs, let alone regulate traffic.”
Instead, DaCosta said, the county should focus its funding in two areas, the first being year-round pathway maintenance.
“Being safely walkable or ridable means not being icy or snowy or forced into the middle of the road by snowbanks,” she said. “It will cost more in annual operations, but the conflict between snowbanks and clear sidewalks, paths and bike lanes must be tackled to truly increase nonmotorized transportation in our valley.”
She also thinks local dollars should be funneled into building wildlife crossings.
“As WYDOT moves forward to address rebuilding our highways, we should spend local dollars on wildlife crossings that keep animals safe as the roads widen,” she said. “Our most recent update of the Comprehensive Plan named wildlife crossings as a priority, but thus far none have been built. We can use knowledge gained in Sublette County, where they found the animals would not go under the roads but would go over, to build great crossings.”
DaCosta sees the Integrated Transportation Plan as a “wish list of goals and projects” but said it fails as a business plan.
“The annual operating budget for START alone is forecasted to double to $7.2 million per year, more than half of what would be raised annually by the proposed general sales tax penny,” she said. “I am concerned that the ITP calls for forming another agency within government. I don’t favor our county government getting any larger.”
Nikki Gill, 28, is the sales and marketing manager for the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch. She is a fifth-generation native.
“The reality of the matter is that a significant percentage of the Jackson workforce doesn’t live in the town of Jackson,” Gill said, “which means we need to focus more of our attention on efficient motorized transportation within the county and region.”
Gill’s solution for curbing traffic is widening roads and increasing connections “so that vehicles can get where they are going in a safe and timely manner.
“Not only is traffic an important issue when discussing transportation, but safety is as well,” she said. “Right now we have an arterial road system that lacks redundancy. When we don’t have secondary routes it creates major safety issues.”
She sees improvements to the “Y” intersection at U.S. 89 and Highway 22 as a top funding priority, along with constructing the Tribal Trails connector road.
“The ‘Y’ not only serves as one of the gateways to Jackson, but it’s also where we see the greatest traffic congestion,” she said. “Reconstruction of the ‘Y’ should accommodate all modes of transportation with emphasis on improvements upon signal and bus transit prioritization.
“The Tribal Trails connector will provide some relief to the congestion at the ‘Y,’ while also serving the local and regional population that surrounds it.”
Gill also believes traffic can be mitigated by improving the public transportation system, specifically by increasing the frequency of stops on each route and expanding commuter services.
“There are currently only three trips a day, Monday through Friday, to Star Valley and Teton Valley, which only accommodates people working a traditional 9 to 5 workday,” she said. “A huge portion of the Jackson workforce doesn’t hold those hours, which means riding the START bus isn’t an option for many commuters.”
Trey Davis, 45, is the owner of Sweetwater Restaurant.
Davis said the key to solving the community’s traffic woes is increasing START bus ridership.
“Some ways to do that might be more frequent stops at certain bus stops,” he said. “People might be more likely to ride the bus if they came every 10 minutes to a stop instead of every 30.”
Davis supports adding stops at Melody Ranch and Rafter J neighborhoods and increasing service to commuter communities.
“If we are going to build more housing in Alpine, as rumored, we have to increase the number of buses going down there,” he said, “and also provide a later bus, as hospitality workers work some late hours sometimes.”
He said he opposes the idea of a north bridge proposed to span the Snake River between Moose-Wilson Road and Highway 89.
“I do not think the north bridge is a good idea as it would totally affect businesses in town during the summer months,” he said.