The Grand County Commission unanimously adopted the Unified Transportation Master Plan during its Aug. 16 meeting. The City of Moab has already approved the joint plan, which “identifies actions, strategies, and projects to achieve the community’s goals for a safe, reliable, connected, and efficient transportation system to improve all modes of transportation,” according to the agenda summary. 

Consultants Kimley-Horn Associates helped determine and prioritize 38 transportation projects that could help the community reach its goals for its transportation system. Projects include things like creating overflow parking for Arches National Park and constructing a pedestrian tunnel to connect Aggie Boulevard, at the new Utah State University campus, to Mill Creek Drive.

The item was opened for a public hearing before approval. The only comment was from resident Marc Horwitz, who called in to suggest a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 191 and 400 East, so trucks traveling south on the highway would only have to slow down rather than brake to a stop at the traffic light and then need to rev their engines to regain speed at the green light. Kimley-Horn Associates representative Brent Crowther said that the intersection would need to go through an evaluation process before a specific solution was recommended to the Utah Department of Transportation, and encouraged Horwitz to keep pitching his suggestion at transportation meetings to prompt that process.

Commissioners voted 5-2 to suspend rules regarding public hearings, allowing the commission to vote on the plan at the same meeting that the public hearing was opened. Planning Director Elissa Martin requested this step so staff could start on a grant application for funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new Safe Streets and Roads for ALL program (SS4A), which is part of the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The application is due Sept. 15.

“The grant heavily relies on us having an adopted plan that supports all of this effort and prioritization of projects,” Martin said.

The next opportunity to approve the plan would have been Sept. 6, just about a week ahead of the deadline, and Martin said she preferred to have more buffer time for staff to work on the application with the assurance that the plan was approved.

Commissioners Kevin Walker and Evan Clapper voted against suspending the rules; Walker said he in general favors allowing maximum opportunities for public engagement unless there’s a pressing deadline. Commissioner Sarah Stock and Commission Chair Jacques Hadler agreed that there has already been substantial public engagement regarding the plan, and that suspending the rules to expedite approval was appropriate. Planning staff have held open houses on the plan, and it’s been discussed at Moab City Council meetings as well.

Safe Streets and Roads for ALL grant

After the UTMP was approved, the commission voted to support the application for the SS4A grant. The grant funds local, regional and tribal initiatives to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries. The goal of improving traffic safety and preventing roadway deaths and injuries is consistent with both the Utah Department of Transportation’s ultimate goal of zero fatalities, and with the UTMP’s goal of zero traffic-related serious injuries and deaths per year by 2025. The program has $5 billion to disperse over the next five years, with $1 billion available for fiscal year 2022.

With help from Kimley-Horn, Grand County planning staff identified several projects from the UTMP priority list that fit within the safety objectives of the SS4A grant.

“The projects that will be proposed for implementation are all focused on safety, particularly multi-modal safety,” Crowther said. The UTMP emphasizes development of multiple transportation modes, including cycling, walking, and public transit. Projects in the draft list for the grant application include the Spanish Valley Drive multi-use path, Mill Creek Drive corridor improvements, and Highway 191 crossings at Aggie Boulevard and Dogwood Avenue.

Crowther described the grant as a “great opportunity to secure some funding right on the heels of the UTMP.”

Stock said she’s particularly excited about a project included in the draft list to connect pedestrian pathways near City Market and Kane Creek Boulevard.

“If you could connect directly to the bike path from 100 West, you could then access the underpass, and kids could completely avoid the highway from all over town,” Stock said.

Martin said staff welcome feedback on the draft project list from elected officials, but noted that they’ll need that feedback soon.

“We are needing to write the application around the projects we’re proposing, so if there’s any change, we need to know that sooner than later,” Crowther said.