I am the president of Responsible Growth Coalition, a local nonprofit that advocates publicly vetting and justifying each capital road project set forth in the Integrated Transportation Plan.

For the past several years we have focused on the proposed Tribal Trail Connector, engaged in community outreach and education, and communicated our position to the Board of County Commissioners, which is responsible for the project’s final approval and funding, in writing and by participating in all relevant public comment sessions. Our primary issue has always been the reality of induced demand, which will likely defeat any attempt to alleviate current traffic congestion through road expansion.

Over the past year, Responsible Growth Coalition has participated in, or otherwise closely followed, events relating to the connector project, including:

1. Indian Springs Ranch and Indian Trails homeowners, who would most benefit from the Connector (their trips to and from points west along Highway 22 would be shortened more than anyone else’s), have voted to oppose the project.

2. The project’s Stakeholder Advisory Committee has written to the commissioners indicating opposition by a majority of its members to pursuing the Connector’s construction at this time, in favor of other suggested initiatives.

3. Jim Charlier’s update of the Integrated Transportation Plan presented to the joint information meeting in November 2019 emphasizing, among other things, traffic congestion alleviation, indicated as a benefit of the Connector in its Charter Document, is unlikely due to induced demand.

4. Cambridge Systematic’s Phase 2 analysis of the impact of capital projects, specifically the Connector, confirms the findings of the Phase 1 Travel Demand Model run, i.e., induced demand will result in a net increase of more than 1,000 vehicle trips a day between South Park Loop and Highway 22.

5. The recent wetland study of the meadow the connector would cross indicates a much larger and deeper wetland and the presence of a large fen (which cannot be mitigated). While the fen has resulted in the elimination of any option for the connector to swing to the west and connect to Indian Springs Drive, we should expect a material increase in the project’s cost (currently estimated at $7 million) to mitigate its impact on the wetlands.

In addition, the Stakeholder Committee process has been disappointing. The agenda for its meetings has been limited from the outset by consultants hired by the commissioners and WYDOT representatives, to analysis of potential configurations of the Connector, as if its construction were a foregone conclusion. Also, discussions regarding the “do nothing” option, initiated by stakeholder committee members, have been shut down. We can only hope the committee will stand its ground and assert its role as that of determining the best option going forward, present it to the commissioners, who we hope will take that input into consideration. Otherwise the stakeholder committee process appears to be window dressing.

In summary, to date there is still no analysis that indicates benefits to the community with the connector’s construction that justify its $7 million or more price tag and the risks it poses to the environment. Until such analysis is completed and shared with the public, the commissioners should not approve this project — doing so would be in direct conflict with the Comprehensive Plan’s stated mission (“to preserve and protect our ecosystem”), which the Commissioners are supposed to uphold.

Geoff Gottlieb is the president of the Responsible Growth Coalition. He lives in Wilson. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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