Opinion: Crosstown Traffic

By on March 21, 2018

The road less traveled is slated for major disarray and few are talking about it


JACKSON HOLE, WY – There is new traffic hell coming our way. Locals and visitors should plan for another summer of gridlock, this one on steroids. The number of projects and the lengths of delays will test our patience and make us yearn for summer’s sweet finale.

Road construction projects will include Hwy 390, with likely 15-minute delays and possible night work; continued work on the Cattleman’s Bridge replacement over the Gros Ventre River; and the mega rounda-bout at Gros Ventre Junction that will include 15- to 30-minute delays 24 hours a day through the fall. If you are heading to the airport, you will need at least an extra half hour to get through the construction delays or you are likely to miss your flight.

I moved to Jackson in 1995 and have witnessed the unrelenting pace of development and ever-increasing traffic. Gros Ventre Junction certainly needs a fix and Grand Teton National Park deserves kudos for deciding to improve this busy and increasingly dangerous intersection. But the junction could have been made safer by adding a traffic light, left lanes with left turning signals and a pedestrian/cyclist crossing signal or a tunnel. 

Instead, Grand Teton will first construct a temporary intersection and then build the new super-sized roundabout, able to accommodate 18 wheel semi-trucks. Additionally, the engineers have designed the roundabout to include “islands of refuge” because cyclists will have to dismount from their bikes and walk to the so-called islands in order to cross Hwy 89/191 and the Gros Ventre intersection, as will pedestrians. But how will that work in reality? Does anyone really think area cyclists will dismount and walk their bikes through a roundabout and stand patiently on a concrete island before crossing to the other side?

A traffic light would have been a simpler and cost-effective way to improve safety at this intersection with much less physical impact to the land. It could have been accomplished in a shorter time frame too, with minimal impact compared to the gargantuan project beginning Monday, April 2 and running through November.

The project is scheduled for weekdays only. Weekend days, then, will be a welcome relief valve for locals and tourists to drive Highway 26/89/291 without coming to a standstill. Everyone should urge Grand Teton to stick to this schedule and not allow weekend work at Gros Ventre Junction.

Over the course of the summer and fall, millions of people will be impacted by the construction phase. Let’s hope the finished Gros Ventre Junction roundabout will function as smoothly as promised and be worth both the cost and seven months of disruption we endure. 

On the subject of roads, we also need to ask what Teton County officials were thinking when they chose not to complete paving the remaining portion of Spring Gulch Road. The road was essentially closed for six months and paving was done on the other sections during this time. The County has offered many different reasons that don’t make much sense. We better hope the County either does this last bit of paving with great rapidity or postpones it until 2019. Otherwise there will be two projects on Spring Gulch that cause delays while the Gros Ventre round-a-bout construction is underway.

County officials have said they want to study methods to slow traffic on busy Spring Gulch Road, which could include raised pavement, a less straight road or other slowing obstacles. Instead, the County should consider 21st-century technology—install traffic cameras that capture license plates of speeders and issue tickets in the mail as other municipalities do.

The Spring Gulch Road corridor is a priceless gem in this valley. It preserves ranching history and offers spectacular vistas along a rural road. Don’t mess it up with over-built traffic calming structures. There is also discussion swirling that some in the County want to use Spring Gulch Road to demonstrate that slowing traffic is possible and reassure the Indian Trails community that the proposed Tribal Trails connector could include traffic calming devices. This is bonkers. We’re talking about two different roads and neighborhood environments.

Teton County needs to greatly improve public information. Many locals were unaware of recent meetings on road projects, including the neighborhoods that would be most affected by decisions. The County has not been willing to tell us with specificity why the paving was not completed on Spring Gulch when it would have caused little inconvenience. I have had several direct communications with various County officials over the last six months regarding Spring Gulch Road, including meetings in-person, phone calls and emails. The story kept changing about why the County didn’t finish the paving. They have had one year and it is one mile of road.

We can all appreciate that planning road improvements and embarking on road construction work is complex and difficult. But our local elected officials and their staff need to be fully transparent about what they are considering. They also must be responsive to the concerns of citizens and ensure they are taking the steps to include as many residents in the conversation as possible. 

About Joan Anzelmo

Joan Anzelmo served for 35 years in the National Park Service including as park spokesperson for Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Her last post was superintendent at Colorado National Monument. Upon her retirement, Anzelmo returned to Jackson Hole where she resides today.

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