At a special joint meeting on Oct. 30, the Moab City Council and the Grand County Commission convened with members of the Arches Hotspot Region Coordinating Committee to review the committee’s project proposals to be considered for the Utah Transportation Commission’s Hotspot Funding.

Recreation Hotspot Funding is a one-time allocation authorized by a state bill passed in 2017. It was intended to be spent in areas particularly affected by tourism, and to be used on projects that meet three criteria: reduce congestion, support economic development, and increase recreation and tourism opportunities. Local officials created a focus group to develop ideas and in 2018, submitted a proposal for a parking structure in downtown Moab. Moab was awarded $10 million for the project, but as design began, mounting public opposition prompted local leaders to negotiate with the Utah Department of Transportation to scrap the parking structure and come up with a new proposal. After months of collaboration, the Arches Hotspot Region Coordinating Committee, with members from the council, the commission and a local business representative, landed on three proposals. The first step was to have the ideas approved by the council and the commission; looking ahead, the committee will have to also get a green light from UDOT and the Utah Transportation Commission.

The projects

The two elected bodies voted to approve the suite of three projects the Arches Hotspot Region Coordinating Committee honed over months of meetings, including a redesign of downtown parking, a pilot transit system, and a multi-use pathway in Spanish Valley.

The redesign of downtown parking will add between 155 and 188 new parking stalls dispersed throughout streets branching off of downtown Main Street, at a cost of between $33,000 to $38,000 per stall. The committee envisions the re-design to include landscaping and attractive amenities. Those elements may have to be paid for by local government bodies after the initial construction: UDOT has said they will allocate no more than 6% of the total project cost to aesthetic design elements.

“On this parking project, I think it’s fair to say we hit a little bit of an impasse, where the committee and the local community felt strongly regarding the aesthetics and the landscaping” while UDOT is more concerned with congestion mitigation, said Commissioner Curtis Wells, who served as chair of the Arches Hotspot Region Coordinating Committee.

Officials say they are committed to the aesthetic aspect of the project, even if it comes in a later phase.

The pilot transit system has yet to be fleshed out. The proposal is for a five-year pilot program, which will cost about $500,000 per year for operation and maintenance. UDOT will fund the first three years, if local entities will commit to funding the fourth and fifth years of operation. It is yet to be determined what routes such a system would serve and how much the service would cost users per ride, if anything. UDOT representative Monte Aldridge, who attended the meeting, noted that for a transit system to be eligible for funding from the Federal Transit Authority, it would have to serve commuters and low-income citizens. A shuttle to Arches National Park, for example, he said, would not be eligible for that funding.

City Councilmember Tawny Knuteson-Boyd expressed discomfort with approving something so vague.

“I’d like to have a little more clarity than just ‘get it to us fast,’” she said.

Assistant City Manager Carly Castle assured her that the proposal would be further refined.

“It’s not completely cooked right now, but the intent would be for it to be turn-key ready by the end of this process,” Castle said.

The multi-use pathway in Spanish Valley would create a paved path for walkers and bikers from Mill Creek Drive at the north end to the boundary between Grand and San Juan counties at the south end, with the possibility of extending further south in the future.

The committee solicited public input throughout the planning process, hosting both an online and an in-person public workshop and offering two surveys soliciting feedback on the proposed projects. Information on the committee’s activities and the results of the surveys can be found at moabcity.org, under the “Hotspot Committee” tab.

Both the commission and the council voted to approve the package as presented. The Moab City Council voted 4-1 in favor, with councilmember Knuteson-Boyd in opposition; the commission voted 5-0 in favor, with councilmembers Rory Paxman and Greg Halliday absent from the meeting.

Commission Chair Mary McGann read aloud a letter of gratitude to UDOT, thanking the agency for considering the Arches area for Hotspot funding and for supporting infrastructure projects that benefit Moab and Grand County residents.

“The Recreational Hotspot Program has provided a unique platform for our residents and businesses to contribute invaluable input and creative thought toward transportation issues and ideas in the Moab area,” the letter reads in part, describing the package as “a unique combination of basic, essential, and direct solutions; as well as innovative, forward-thinking concepts that have the potential for growth and evolution over time.”