Soldiering on through the pandemic and budget crises at both the city and the county, the Arches Hotspot Region Coordinating Committee has continued to hold regular Zoom meetings to come up with projects that would meet the criteria for “Recreational Hotspot” funding from the Utah Transportation Commission after a planned parking garage met with public opposition.
Within the next few weeks, the committee will present three concepts to the public through surveys, a virtual public engagement meeting and an in-person open house.
The ideas presented will be familiar to many: one proposal is to redesign parking on downtown sidestreets, another is a Spanish Valley multi-use pathway and the third idea is a transit or “hotel-hopper” system, which had earlier been dismissed as too expensive.
In 2018, the area surrounding Arches National Park was awarded $10 million from the Utah Transportation Commission from a fund to support projects near popular recreation areas that aimed to reduce congestion, support economic development and increase recreation and tourism opportunities.
The proposals that were approved for funding in the Moab area included additional dispersed parking and a downtown parking structure. However, some Moab residents publicly opposed the parking garage plan while the design phase was underway.
In response, the Moab City Council negotiated with the Utah Department of Transportation, which is responsible for distributing the funds, for a chance to come up with a different project to be considered for the same funding.
A new committee was formed, with County Commissioner Curtis Wells serving as chair with members from the County Commission, City Council and the community and participation from UDOT representatives.
Concepts for public review
The downtown parking concept has received a lot of attention from the committee. City Engineer Chuck Williams and staff have created draft plans to show median parking installed where possible on blocks east and west of Main Street from 200 North to 100 South. Currently, similar median parking is available on East Center Street.
The additional parking on each street would be designed differently in consideration of street width, driveways, sidewalks and existing utilities. Williams estimated that it was feasible to create as many as 144 new parking stalls for a cost of about $6.77 million.
Committee members envision the project following a model that includes attractive aesthetics and landscaping and amenities like benches and bike parking. Williams told the committee he does not recommend planting trees in the medians for fear of causing maintenance problems with buried utilities.
A community survey, which was open for just over two weeks at the end of August and received over 200 responses from Moab-area residents, strongly suggested that these kinds of amenities are more important to Moabites than creating the actual parking spaces.
“I thought that was an interesting result,” said Lisa Church, the city communications manager, who presented the survey findings at a Sept. 9 committee meeting. “It was sort of surprising because people have been talking about parking so much; certainly the committee has been focused on it.”
Discussion of parking redesign details has dominated much of the committee’s recent discussions: members debated whether stamped concrete or painted asphalt is the better option to delineate median parking spaces, whether trees in planters would be feasible and how much lighting would be necessary to make street crossings safe.
UDOT representative Monte Aldridge warned the committee at its Sept. 22 meeting that these aesthetic additions would bring up the cost of the project.
He reminded them that UDOT had asked that the cost per stall on any proposed parking project be similar to that estimated for the abandoned parking structure idea, which was to be which was between $35,000 and $38,000 per stall. Some Moab residents, at the time, objected to this high price tag for parking spaces.
“With what we have before us now, that’s $47,000 per stall. That’s an increase of over $10,000 per stall,” Aldridge warned.
With the potential addition of 44 more parking spaces on Emma Boulevard, that cost per stall could drop lower, but Aldridge urged the committee to keep low cost a priority.
“Any way we slice it, we’re looking at a pretty decent increase over the amount per stall that we looked at previously,” Aldridge said of the sidestreet parking concept.
“As we go into these conversations of stamped concrete versus asphalt and paint—those are all items that add to the cost,” he said, adding apologetically: “I don’t want to be the one to rain on the parade.”
Wells suggested breaking up the project into phases. The first phase, supported by Hotspot funding, would create the new parking stalls. Future phases to enhance the parking areas could be funded by local governmental entities when budgets permit.
“I’d like to see us take our blinders off and be a little more flexible, because I think we have to,” Wells said. “I don’t think we necessarily need to have our cake and eat it too.”
Committee members agreed to the phased idea, but asked staff to create a sketch of what the streets could eventually look like in its final phase to present to members of the public.
A second idea for a Spanish Valley multi-use pathway has been in development for several years and committee members quickly agreed it would be included in the suite of concepts offered to the community for consideration. The pathway would connect Spanish Valley, possibly as far as the La Sal Loop Road, to existing walking and cycling paths in the Moab area and improve access to recreation areas like the Old Spanish Trail Arena, Ken’s Lake and the La Sal Mountains.
The third option, a public transit system, had been discarded as too expensive to fit within the scope of the potential hotspot funding of $10 million at previous meetings.
However, committee members Karen Guzman-Newton and Mike Duncan never flagged in their enthusiasm for the idea and Aldridge said UDOT had lately reconsidered.
If “the community had the ability to have a little bit of skin in the game,” Aldridge said, UDOT could consider a small-scale trial period of three or four years for a transit or shuttle system, with a cost estimate of about $1.5 million a year.
Aldridge said the expected financial commitment from local governments had not been determined but could consist of “soft” contributions like land for a shuttle station.
The transit option was revived late in the game; city staff are hoping to open another public survey by early next week and the committee plans to host both a virtual and an in-person open house within the next three weeks to present the possibilities to the community. That leaves little time to flesh out the pilot transit program. Guzman-Newton will work with UDOT representatives to add body to the idea as soon as possible, to have a more concrete proposal for public consideration.
Down to the wire
The committee’s task is a balancing act: to achieve the goals outlined by UDOT in order to receive the funding, it must keep costs low and create a proposal that reduces traffic congestion. To meet the vision of community members as suggested by survey results, it must design something attractive that promotes pedestrian and cycling activity. To gain community approval and make realistic cost estimates, the committee must be specific about the design so the public can decide whether it approves; however, the committee doesn’t want to waste time nailing down details on projects that UDOT will not fund.
The final proposals are due to UDOT by Nov. 1, a two-month extension from the original due date to accommodate for the upset created by the coronavirus. Before that date, the committee must collect and consider public opinion, get approval from both the City Council and the County Commission and finalize the proposals.
Updates on public comment opportunities will be posted on the City’s website at www.moabcity.org and on their Facebook page.
“I’d like to see us take our blinders off and be a little more flexible, because I think we have to.”
– Curtis Wells
Deadline approaches for project proposals for millions in state funding