With consultants hired and $750,000 in the budget, planning for a Tribal Trail connector road is officially underway.
This could be “the most extensive stakeholder process the county has ever gone through” for a single project, Teton County Public Works Director Heather Overholser told commissioners. The process will include five stakeholder meetings, five public workshops and three Teton County Board of County Commissioners votes.
To kick off the process the county and the Wyoming Department of Transportation are inviting the public to an open house Thursday. People can drop in between 5 and 7 p.m. at the Teton County Library’s Ordway Auditorium.
Though no formal presentation is planned, there will be displays with information about the project’s background, history and process as well as opportunities for the public to provide feedback to aid the project team, Teton County Engineer Amy Ramage said.
“Examples of useful feedback include information on specific environmental resources that might be present, specific travel or safety issues, and effective ways to communicate future study information,” Ramage said.
Consultant Jim Clarke said additional examples could be what modes of travel people use in the area or what wildlife movement people have observed there.
Staff and consultants will be available to answer questions and discuss the project.
“We found it’s a lot more effective if we can just communicate directly with members of the public and have one-on-one conversations,” Clarke said.
The public meeting comes on the heels of the first meeting of the Tribal Trail stakeholder advisory committee, a 10-member body that was appointed last August and held its first meeting May 16. The meeting was not advertised to the public to make it a “safe and judgment-free zone for the stakeholders to be able to share their thoughts on the project,” Overholser said.
“We didn’t want the stakeholder meetings to turn into a public comment forum,” she said. “It’s specifically for the stakeholders to be able to really be thoughtful about the process and authentic in their comments and discussion.”
Clarke led the discussion at the introductory meeting, which he said focused on identifying the purpose and objectives for the project: provide travel redundancy, reduce vehicle miles traveled, reduce local trips through the “Y” intersection, improve emergency response and provide improved multimodal connections, according to a Powerpoint presentation.
“I felt that for a first meeting it was well organized and run and that the stakeholder group was open-minded and receptive to the process,” stakeholder Frank Lane said.
After stakeholder and public input have been collected and incorporated into the project’s purpose, consultants will produce several design options, or “alternatives,” for the road — including a “no build” or status quo scenario — to analyze how they meet the objectives. Additional stakeholder and public meetings will be conducted to consider the alternatives and select a preferred option, likely in late summer or fall.
“You go through an alternatives evaluation process where you pare down the number of alternatives you study in detail,” Clarke said. “Typically we narrow it down to one build alternative as well as what’s called a no-build alternative, or no-action alternative, which serves as your baseline.”
Ramage said traffic modeling software recently purchased for the county will help it understand the transportation needs the connector could address and compare alternative options for a connector along with noise impacts.
The controversial connector would extend an existing road to link South Park Loop to Highway 22. It’s identified as a high priority in the Comprehensive Plan and Integrated Transportation Plan. It also marks the first capital project from the transportation plan to be pursued, making the planning process somewhat of a “guinea pig,” Overholser said.
The project will follow not only the transportation plan’s project charter review process but also the National Environmental Policy Act review process, which may be mandated if the project receives federal funds or requires a wetlands impact permit.
In April 2018 county commissioners signed on to an agreement with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, essentially contracting WYDOT as a consultant to complete the Tribal Trail project on behalf of Teton County. WYDOT in turn hired a team of consultants to study the road, including Jacobs Engineering and Morrison-Maierle.