Support for a shuttle transportation system in Moab that would take visitors to the entrance area of Arches National Park is lacking in the county.

The Grand County Council heard from Grand County’s Moab Transit Authority Study Committee during its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, April 6. On the agenda was whether to adopt a proposed resolution supporting a shuttle system partnership for Arches National Park. The motion would support the idea of a partnership with the county, National Park Service, City of Moab and the Utah Department of Transportation.

Grand County Council member Curtis Wells made a motion to adopt the resolution and it was seconded by member Jaylyn Hawks. A discussion ensued, with member Mary McGann and Hawks both expressing discomfort at the resolution. Hawks then made a substitute motion to postpone making a decision. Her motion was seconded by McGann, and passed the council’s vote with Wells and member Rory Paxman voting against the majority. Member Terry Morse was absent from the meeting.

A local shuttle transportation system is one solution being discussed as a possible alternative traffic plan to help mitigate traffic congestion at Arches National Park.

Other solutions include ideas to build and open a second entrance to the park to provide more than two entrance booths, support bicycling inside the park, and implement an advance reservation system for entry to limit visitors coming into the park during peak times.

The latter idea, supported by the superintendent of Arches National Park, Kate Cannon, as a way to help with overcrowding, has drawn skepticism from local residents for a variety of reasons.

Some have argued — such as Michael Liss, the chair of the Moab Transit Authority Study Committee — that federal public lands should remain open as intended, without the entry changed to an advance, online reservation system to manage private vehicles’ congestion.

Liss points to federal law enacted in 1916 establishing the National Park Service that says “The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the federal areas known as national parks … by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks … which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects …”

But others point to the possible economic impact Moab and the wider region face. A recent study shared by the park service speculates that implementing an advance reservation system is likely to cause a slowdown in future economic growth in surrounding counties as far away as Garfield County, Colorado. Upon hearing of the study, some small businesses in Moab said a deterrence to visitors caused by a reservation system could lead them to bankruptcy.

“We would like the county council to approve a resolution to study doing a shuttle for Arches National Park,” Liss told the council.

A point of contentious discussion was on how the study would be funded and who would pay for it.

The resolution considered by council said that in partnership with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) there would be the “potential for redeploying the UDOT Recreational Hot Spot Funding earmarked for a downtown Moab parking structure for dispersed parking serviced by the new shuttle system.”

Liss estimated the study would cost “probably under $100,000.”

In 2018, the Utah Transportation Commission approved $10 million in “Recreational Hot Spot” funding for the Arches National Park–Moab area. Kevin Kitchen, communications manager for UDOT in the region, said in 2018 that the plans for using the funds are for “conceptual ideas” that were created to be able to secure the award, with a concept to direct a portion (about $7.8 million) of the funds to build a three- or four-story parking structure in downtown Moab and use the remaining award money to create more dispersed parking.

Wells said directing money from the $10 million awarded to study a shuttle system would be “absolutely appropriate and pertinent to that recreation hot spot funding process.”

“I wouldn’t take current, or future, hot spot funding off the table for this study,” Wells said. “The goal is that would be an ongoing program for years.”

“It seems like when that hot spot funding became available, a lot of people were really excited about it, and I haven’t stayed super current on who all is kind of counting on that money,” said council chair Evan Clapper, “… and I didn’t want to pull the rug out from under some other projects …”

Wells said he doesn’t think there is an “overwhelming need” for downtown parking structures.

Karen Guzman-Newton is a member of the Moab Transit Authority Study Committee. She is also a member of the Moab City Council, but does not represent the city on the transit committee. She said city staff has identified a need for a parking structure downtown, but said a parking structure to mitigate traffic on Main Street isn’t going to solve all of the city’s problems.

“There are some concerns,” Guzman-Newton said. “It’s not going to deal with trailers. You’re not going to be able to get a trailer into a parking structure. You’re not going to be able to get trucks with bicycles in a parking structure.”

Wells questioned why there would be a need to “redeploy” funds if the total award was $10 million and just $7.8 million was suggested to be used for a parking structure.

“I don’t know,” McGann said. “I’m not comfortable starting to deal with the funds and having anything in the resolution dealing with funds that are already somewhat earmarked or talked about, and we have other priorities, too.”

McGann said she “would not feel comfortable supporting this resolution unless we had a meeting — a joint city council meeting and probably other meetings with other agencies.”

“… Because when we started that process with this Hot Spot (funding), there were lots of things that money wanted to be spent on,” McGann said. “And then to all of a sudden decide, ‘We’re going to prioritize this,’ without having all the people who were part of the original Hot Spot appropriation and decision-making present to say why they feel that, I think we have the cart before the horse. I think this is premature to start talking about this funding before we have all the people at the table.”

The National Park Service studied implementing a voluntary shuttle system about eight years ago, Liss said. Based on that study, Cannon has said the park service concluded a shuttle system would be too expensive to implement and maintain.

Idea presented to council for multi-agency partnership

“We would like the county council to approve a resolution to study doing a shuttle for Arches National Park.”