City mayor and council

At a past meeting, Karen Guzman-Newton (third from left) discussed Moab’s transportation infrastructure and questioned the state’s support for funding of a U.S. Highway 191 bypass during a joint city and council meeting. Pictured, left to right, are Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus, city council members Tawny Knuteson-Boyd, Mike Duncan, Rani Derasary and Kalen Jones. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

The Grand County Commission voted to remove consideration of a bypass on the west side of town from the regional transportation plan at its regular meeting on April 6.

A variety of stakeholders are in the process of creating a Southeastern Utah Regional Transportation Plan, including the Utah Department of Transportation, Moab City, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, and Grand and San Juan counties. The plan will inform UDOT’s projects in the area over the short and long term. The idea of a downtown bypass—a road for freight and through-traffic that would route those vehicles away from Moab’s downtown Main Street—has been discussed for decades, and has consistently been controversial.

In a 2018 study, a consulting company studied possible downtown Moab bypass options and deemed two potential routes as the most feasible. Both routes would have directed traffic through or close to residential neighborhoods on the west side of town, and citizens from those neighborhoods spoke passionately in opposition to those options at public meetings. The Moab City Council recently adopted a resolution opposing the two routes through west neighborhoods, and instead promoting other tools for mitigating traffic problems on downtown Main Street.

The Grand County Commission’s resolution, too, opposes the two west-side routes identified in 2018, and requests that UDOT also remove the bypass from its state-wide project list. It also expresses the intention to collaborate with Moab City on other ways to address congestion and traffic downtown.

Commissioner Gabriel Woytek said he thinks it makes sense for the bypass to remain on the project list.

“A regional transportation plan should have all of the ideas and options stated, and whether any of them are necessarily viable or not—it just seems appropriate” to include the bypass, he said, but went on to note that other solutions should be elected officials’ priority in the near term. He also noted that future commissions, or UDOT, can put the bypass back on the table at any time, and recognized that the bypass faced wide local opposition, and so agreed to vote in favor of the resolution.

Commissioner Evan Clapper also noted that while opposition from west neighborhoods to the two specific routes proposed in 2018 has been strong, the commission also recently received a letter from the Downtown Main Street Alliance specifically supporting a bypass that routes traffic away from downtown Main Street. The Downtown Main Street Alliance was formed to give downtown businesses representation in the Arches Recreation Hotspot Funding planning committee, and includes establishments like Poison Spider Bicycles, the Gonzo Inn, 98 Center, Sabaku, Canyon Voyages, and others.

“It feels to me a little bit like, because it has been such a large part of the conversation, that completely erasing it is a bit like sticking our head in the sand,” Clapper said of removing the bypass from the transportation plan.

Commissioner Sarah Stock noted that the resolution specifically opposes the two routes that would impact the west side neighborhoods. Commissioner Kevin Walker pointed out that while many ideas for bypass routes exist, the most viable and affordable will negatively impact neighborhoods, and the “magical” options that would not impact neighborhoods are likely unrealistic or cost prohibitive. He also noted that according to studies, a bypass would only reduce travel time on Main Street by a negligible amount.

“Even according to people who are boosting the bypass, it's really not going to be that big of a solution. To me that is the biggest reason to oppose it,” said Walker. He instead supports planning efforts to make Main Street more pedestrian friendly, potentially by introducing public transit, using alleys and side streets, and encouraging alternative modes of transportation.

The resolution passed 6-1, with Clapper in opposition.

The Grand County Commission meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m. Meetings are streamed online at the Grand County Youtube channel. Schedules, agendas and opportunities for public comment can be found at www.grandcountyutah.net. Residents can email commission@grandcountyutah.net to automatically reach each County Commission member, the commission administrator, the associate commission administrator, and the county attorney.