The Arches Regional Hotspot Coordinating Committee is nearing the finish line in crafting a proposal to be considered by the Utah Transportation Commission for the allocation of potentially ten million state dollars for local projects that reduce traffic congestion, facilitate recreation, and enhance economic development in the Moab area. In meetings throughout the summer, the group has distilled out three infrastructure projects it sees as achievable, beneficial to the community, and in line with the criteria outlined by the Utah Department of Transportation, which is distributing the funds, to be eligible for the grant money.
Before submitting the proposals to the Utah Transportation Commission, the coordinating committee must get approval from both the city council and the county commission. Before pursuing those approvals, the committee is hoping to gather and incorporate as much public input as possible.
The three finalists for potential projects are improving parking in the downtown area, completing all or part of a paved multi-use pathway along Spanish Valley Drive, and a five-year pilot local public transit system.
The downtown parking improvements concept appears to be the most complex of the three. The improvements would involve overhauling between seven and nine side streets close to Main Street in the downtown area, increasing the number of parking stalls by creating median parking strips. This arrangement would result in essentially one-way streets on either side of the medians.
Proponents of this concept are as much interested in the aesthetics of the new street design as in the function of adding more parking, envisioning trees, benches, and attractive lighting. However, UDOT has said it will only allow 6% of the total budget to be spent on aesthetics, and elements like lighting have a high price tag. UDOT has also said that the cost per new parking stall in this concept should not exceed the cost that was expected per stall in the originally approved hotspot project, the unpopular downtown parking garage. Depending on future choices, the parking improvement project would yield between 153 and 188 new parking spaces, including 44 spaces on Emma Boulevard, northwest of downtown. The cost per stall would come out between $31,000 and $38,000, which is less than the project cost per stall for the parking structure.
The pilot transit program was a late addition to the ideas under consideration; previously, UDOT had dismissed public transit as too expensive to be a realistic candidate for the funding. The transit system would include a “hotel hopper” and/or a local valley loop and would operate for five years at about $500,000 per year. UDOT would fund the first three years; local entities would be responsible for funding years four and five.
The multi-use pathway along Spanish Valley Drive has been under consideration for several years, and community planners have already been obtaining the necessary right-of-ways and agreements to make it a reality.
The committee plans to present all three projects to the Utah Transportation Commission and hopes to receive funding for all three, though it’s not guaranteed that all will be approved. The Commission may choose one, two, none, or all; there may be some further negotiations on how much is allocated to each project.
At the regular city council meeting, on Oct. 13, when presented with the three ideas, Mayor Emily Niehaus said it would be “crushing” to spend money on a bike path if it meant taking away money from doing the parking project the way people want to see it done, with all the aesthetic elements the public supports.
The committee held a public workshop over Zoom on Oct. 7. Public attendance was low; committee members regretted their meeting was nearly overlapping with the Vice Presidential debate held on the same evening. After summarizing the status of the three proposed projects, Committee Chair Curtis Wells invited questions and comments from any participating members of the public. His invitation was followed by several long seconds of silence.
“Wow, it’s hoppin’! This virtual meeting is incredible!” joked committee member and city council member Karen Guzman-Newton, eliciting chuckles and smiles from other members.
Committee member Kalen Jones, also a city council member, noted that there are other ways for citizens to give input, including through two surveys designed by city staff and available on the city’s website, as well as an outdoor, in-person meeting held one week after the Zoom meeting. Citizens will also be able to speak at city council and county commission meetings at which the projects are discussed.
Moab resident Judy Powers did attend the meeting via Zoom, and shared her thoughts on the proposals.
“I think the ideas are great and I’m thrilled to hear that they’re open to hearing these ideas,” she said, referring to UDOT’s willingness to consider projects with local support like the bike path and a transit system.
“I really like that idea of slowing down the traffic, cause we certainly need to do that. I really like the fact that we’re trying to make things more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, cause I think that’s the direction we really need to go,” she added.