Grand Teton National Park is mulling whether to pave Meadow Road. This windy gravel route that once ended at the doorstep of a ranch now leads to the scattered driveways of multimillion-dollar homes. As the National Park Service collects public comment and conducts an environmental assessment, this newspaper has published comments from neighbors and officials.
As it turns out, paving is a national — even global — dilemma.
In a 2016 report the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University in Bozeman investigated the global trend of doing the reverse — unpaving roads to save taxpayer dollars. At least 27 states have experimented with unpaving.
Paving clearly has benefits, including dust control, reduced wear and tear on vehicles and easier year-round maintenance and winter clearing. Other advantages may arise since the park has dedicated staff resources to assessing Meadow Road.
As that analysis moves forward, here are some common-sense indicators for when to preserve gravel and not incur the expense and commitment of asphalt paving:
•Traffic doesn’t warrant it.
Although the public rarely, if ever, uses Meadow Road, park officials report increasing residential traffic. Let’s see traffic counts.
•Lack of funding for the initial construction.
The park says it has no funding for this project. Check.
•Control speed and growth. Gravel can act as a series of speed bumps for all vehicles. Reducing speed is especially critical given the soaring numbers of wildlife killed by vehicles on county and park roads. Check check.
While our community is considering rural roads, further analysis is also warranted on the option of gravel preservation for Moose-Wilson Road, Gros Ventre Road, south Fall Creek Road, RKO Road, Granite Creek Road, Cache Creek Road, Mormon Row and others.
Society’s relentless drive to improve infrastructure can sometimes push us in the wrong direction.
Let’s pump the brakes on paving paradise and give this Teton park proposal a long, skeptical look. These are consequential decisions.