By now, most of us have been stuck in traffic this summer. Highway gridlock has come to Jackson Hole.
Logically, if you have too much traffic for your roads you build more roads. This is what the Wyoming Department of Transportation would like to do. Except, most independent experts say more roads just mean more traffic over time. It also means more dead wildlife. More and bigger roads also mean a real degradation of the small-town community character that we love.
Most highway departments nationwide have moved toward what is called a “context sensitive solutions” approach to highway planning — advocated by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. This means listening to local jurisdictions about traffic congestion solutions and considering a wide range of alternatives. WYDOT has yet to embrace this modern protocol.
Over a decade ago, WYDOT planned for a major expansion of Highway 89 south of Jackson to five lanes. The department essentially ignored the local public. Our County Commission — Republicans and Democrats — unanimously endorsed a professionally drawn and less expensive alternative using three lanes with more turn lanes.
That alternative was not even considered in WYDOT’s environmental plan for the project. Worse still, WYDOT did a piecemeal assessment of its alternative’s critical “level of service,” looking only at the South Park to Hoback section. Had the department checked using the “logical terminae” of improvements from Jackson to Alpine, it would have found that the county plan for three lanes was enough.
Two decades ago, WYDOT planned for four lanes on Highway 22. Public objections led to the project being shelved. Today, adding another two lanes on Highway 22 is being considered by WYDOT, along with a new bridge crossing the Snake River and reconfiguration of the intersection of Highways 390 and 22.
WYDOT is again taking a piecemeal approach to planning. We need a comprehensive plan for all the aspects of Highway 22: the bridge, all the intersections, the Tribal Trail connector and Highway 22 itself. The public needs to be involved and the environment considered. Doing less will likely lead to litigation. Collaboration would be better.
In 2015, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners and the Jackson Town Council adopted an Integrated Transportation Plan to try to address traffic issues in Jackson Hole. Most of it was not implemented, so the plan did not work. Plans to hire a transportation specialist were shelved. The things that reduce traffic — more people on buses and more people per car — were unchanged. In fact, miles driven in Teton County have blown past projections to levels predicted for 2035. With e-bikes a few more people are biking to work during nice weather, but the overall impact on traffic is tiny. Most people drive. Obviously, our transportation trends are going the wrong way.
There is one highly successful example of public transportation making a huge difference. On an average winter day in 2019, 3,390 people rode buses to Teton Village. Parking in Teton Village is very expensive, and there are 80 buses a day, so wait times are tolerable. This program has taken a lot of cars off that road.
There is some thought that a similar approach to parking in the town of Jackson might also help reduce congestion. Make parking cost a lot and people will be motivated not to drive.
I am not so sure about this. I do not see how people will have a lot of alternatives. Paid parking would be a hit to small-town community character. A town parking study did identify one item that would significantly reduce core area parking. It would like local residents who work in town not to take prime parking spaces and occupy them all day.
Back in 1940, the Wyoming Highway Department refused to listen to local people who wanted them to plow Teton Pass. So residents “stole the plows” and did it themselves. This time let’s work together for a comprehensive plan and collaborative effort.