The last gravel mile of Spring Gulch Road is set to be paved.
On Monday, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a not-to-exceed contract with Inberg-Miller Engineers for the work. Inberg is one of two firms that bid to design and oversee paving the straightaway that runs from Lucas Riva Ridge Road to Bar BC Ranch Road. The cost to the county is set at $114,250.
Director of Public Works Heather Overholser told the Jackson Hole Daily Thursday that, if things go according to plan, that bit of byway could be paved as soon as the summer of 2022. If it is, the construction would cap a years-long back and forth about the future of the road.
Commissioner Mark Newcomb, who was elected in 2014, said he remembered the road being discussed right after he won his seat.
“One of the first meetings I had when I was first elected as commissioner was with [Road and Levee Manager] Dave Gustafson. I mentioned that maybe we could consider creating that last stretch of Spring Gulch Road. And he just laughed and said, ‘Good luck,’ ” Newcomb recalled. “So I think we’ve made a ton of progress.”
But the conversation isn’t necessarily over. A staff report said that “details of the design will be developed once engineering is underway.” And dialogue Monday centered around ways to slow people down on the road, as well as ensure safety for bikers and other road users who aren’t in vehicles.
In 2019, the Teton County Public Works department held an open house to discuss speed calming measures on the road if it was paved. But there wasn’t consensus on any of the proposed measures, which included pavement markings, radar signs, and speed tables.
In the past two years, county staff has been trying to secure easements along the road to allow for traffic calming infrastructure, snow storage and a pathway. But those easements have not materialized.
And, while Teton County Engineer Amy Ramage said in the staff report that speed measures would be considered as the road is designed, she recognized that, with the exception of radar, most would be unpopular.
To slow speeds, staff are considering paving a “narrower width than the existing gravel segment.”
At Monday’s meeting, people who gave public comment — and some commissioners — encouraged Public Works staff not to abandon infrastructure aimed at slowing people down. Some encouraged the department to continue pursuing easements for a bike path, especially with the county planning to build a pathway spur north of a parcel it’s redeveloping for a mitigation project just north of Cattleman’s Bridge.
Katherine Dowson, executive director of Friends of Pathways, supported the push for a narrower road in the absence of a paved pathway, but she encouraged traffic calming measures and suggested she’d be willing to help on the easements.
“If there is no possibility of a separated pathway at this time, I would hope you put any improvements or infrastructure in there that would slow traffic down,” she said.
Mike Geraci felt similarly.
“Narrowing a road also reduces the margin for error,” he said. “So if you’re going to narrow it, there have to be other considerations like lining, like stripe centering, maybe reducing speed.”
Commissioner Luther Propst commended staff for moving toward the narrow lanes, but he said he hoped the county hadn’t “finished the conversation about traffic calming.”
“I think that there are ways we can present alternative traffic calming approaches in a way that will be popular publicly,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot more to do to tease out why there’s a concern with traffic calming approaches and come up with traffic calming approaches that will work with safety.”
Newcomb, a Kelly resident, said he was optimistic about changing drivers’ behavior after his experience on the Kelly Road, the road that stretches from the Gros Ventre Roundabout to Kelly proper. He said there’s a number of bikers on the road, and he thinks motorists are fairly considerate of them.
“Maybe it’s to some degree on our shoulders to put signage in place and to change the culture around driving on the Spring Gulch Road and the use of that road until we can get a pathway in there,” he said. “I’m optimistic based on what I’ve seen on Kelly Road.”