The Grand County Commision spent much of its regular May 18 meeting discussing transportation: considering concepts for a pilot public shuttle service that could be funded by the Utah Transportation Commission through its Recreation Hotspot award, and a recently completed long-term regional transportation plan spearheaded by the Utah Department of Transportation.
Since 2018, Moab and Grand County leaders have been hashing out proposals with the hope of being eligible for a pool of money from the Utah Transportation Commission to be awarded to “recreation hotspots” for projects that will ease congestion, facilitate recreation, and support economic development. After some turbulence over a controversial and ultimately scrapped downtown parking structure, a committee made up of community leaders landed on three alternative projects, including a public shuttle system to be implemented as a pilot program, funded in part by hotspot monies and in part by matching financial contributions from local entities.
Transportation consulting company Fehr and Peers has conducted a study and generated four options for how the shuttle system might work. Possible elements include fixed or flexible routes, “microtransit” vehicles like vans that work almost like an Uber or Lyft, full-size buses, and variations in the service area covered.
Commissioners discussed in detail different aspects of each option, considering how different approaches might best serve visitors and locals, how areas of expected growth might shift where public transit is most needed, how bus routes would interface with existing infrastructure, and how much everything would cost.
Jon Nestad of Fehr and Peers noted that the system can be tweaked in response to feedback after it’s been implemented.
“There’s definitely some knobs and dials to adjust once we get up and running,” he said.
Jason Miller, also of Fehr and Peers, pointed out that that’s an advantage of the microtransit system, which uses algorithms to direct drivers to efficiently pick up riders and bring them to their destinations.
“The nice thing about microtransit is you get really rich data from the system. The providers of the technology are tech companies; they love data,” Miller said.
The project still needs to be approved by the Utah Transportation Commission to secure the funding, and that body’s commitment depends on the promise of local financial contributions. Those contributions will be split between the county and the city, though the shares have not been determined. It is also expected that the Federal Transit Authority will provide some funding.
Commision Administrator Chris Baird cautioned the commission not to commit to the funding without determining how it will pay. The entire project is expected to cost $2.5 million over five years of the pilot system, with the hotspot funds covering $1.5 million for the first three years and the local community contributing the rest.
“If we’re going to pass a resolution saying that we’re committing to providing funding, I just want to do it in a way that ensures that we’ve really truly identified that funding mechanism throughout whatever timeline we decide on,” said Baird. “I don’t like the idea of just arbitrarily committing a large amount of funding and then later trying to figure out how we’re going to come up with it: it all needs to tie into the big picture and the bottom line.”
The commission tasked Baird and Commissioner Evan Clapper with studying the county’s options and coming up with a proposal for how the county would pay for its contributions.
Regional transportation planning
Parallel to other ongoing transportation plans, UDOT has been working with local stakeholders to create a long-term regional transportation plan for Moab and Spanish Valley meant to sketch out objectives for the next 25-30 years. UDOT worked with Grand and San Juan Counties, Moab City, and the State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration to draft the plan, which contains about 15 projects including multimodal, highway, active transportation, and public transportation improvements. Those might include a bus connection from Moab to Grand Junction or Salt Lake City.
One item absent from the plan is a downtown bypass. The controversial bypass concept of moving freight and through-traffic out of the downtown corridor has surfaced periodically for many years. A recent study indicated that the most feasible options for a bypass would route that traffic away from downtown and near a residential neighborhood on the west side of Moab, prompting outrage from residents of that area. Both the Moab City Council and the Grand County Commission asked that the bypass be left out of the regional transportation plan, and UDOT obliged.
The commission unanimously approved a resolution in support of the regional transportation plan.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to automatically reach each County Commission member, the commission administrator, the associate commission administrator, and the county attorney.