Photo: Patrick Wright, Inversion Labs LLC

A message from county commissioner candidate, Wes Gardner:

JACKSON, Wyo. — Currently, the artery of Highway 22 clogs nearly every day at rush hour while transporting the lifeblood of this community to their homes on the West Bank or over Teton Pass.

Cars idle on the highway, often stretching from the Teton Village intersection at the Snake River all the way into town. Precious resources burn. Emissions release. Time wastes.

“Traffic is tragedy,” said Wes Gardner, the owner of Teton Toys and a candidate for Teton County Commissioner. “And we can’t afford to do nothing about it.”

As a candidate for Teton County Commissioner, Gardner has a nuanced view of the need to widen 22 which has led to confusion in the community. While he does support adding a lane in each direction, he sees this widening as a conduit to greater environmental awareness and a paradigm shift for drivers.

“I’m committed to adding the lanes, but only if we’re allowed to restrict traffic in those lanes to high occupancy vehicles and buses,” Gardner said.

Some candidates want to prevent the road from widening, citing inaction as the best outcome. That line of thinking actually contributes to the problem.

“I’m a conservationist grounded in reality,” Gardner said. “My goal is to build a smart road system that encourages behavior changes so important to reducing our impact on climate change.”

Gardner said by restricting proposed new lanes, carpools and buses will blow by traffic, creating incentives for drivers to improve their driving behavior.

This will lead to the following benefits:

Photo: David Gonzales
  • Fewer single-occupancy vehicles on the road
  • Increased public transit usage
  • Less congestion
  • Reduced idling of cars stuck in traffic
  • Fewer vehicle-wildlife collisions
  • Fewer vehicle miles traveled
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions

“When you stand in the way of HOV and bus lanes on 22, you’re sticking your head in the sand,” he said. Gardner pointed to cities all over the West mired in traffic problems that haven’t shifted behavior change. On their own, traffic problems aren’t enough to induce the paradigm shift to carpooling or public transit over single-occupancy driving.

“There are just more people sitting there in traffic,” Gardner said. “Nothing locally leads me to believe people are changing their behaviors. This is the busiest stretch of road in the state and it’s getting worse every day.”

The added lanes, he said, would incentivize the behavior change needed to reduce vehicle miles traveled — where the rubber literally meets the road, but needs to meet it less often to protect Jackson’s ecosystem. The idea, he said, isn’t about willy-nilly road expansion, but about smart growth that actually reduces overall environmental impact.

Photo: Patrick Wright, Inversion Labs LLC

“Vehicle miles traveled is the No. 1 generator of emissions and wildlife collisions,” Gardner said. And another key part of his transit plan is to create connectors that cut off miles driven for frequent commutes.

The planned Tribal Trails Connector, which would allow traffic to pass from Jackson’s high school and middle school directly onto Highway 22, is a key connector. And it can be developed responsibly. By limiting the speed on the new connector to 25 mph, Gardner said experts have shown it would not become a through-traffic thoroughfare as some neighborhood homeowners fear.

Instead, it would simply allow Cottonwood residents heading to Teton Village to cut mileage off their trip. It would also cut two or three miles off every West Bank trip to the schools.

“Two to three miles per trip doesn’t sound like a lot,” Gardner said. “But with thousands of trips per day, this is a rare opportunity to actually reduce vehicle miles driven per day in Teton County.”

With an average fuel economy of about 25 miles per gallon, the Tribal Trails Connector could help conserve over 100,000 gallons of gas per year. More importantly, it would also prevent 1,100 tons of emissions every year in this valley.

“There are people in this community who seem more interested in the ideology of conservation than the reality of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Gardner said. “In this instance, walking the walk means creative problem-solving to reduce vehicle miles traveled, not fixating on the premise that new roads are bad.”

Last, the Tribal Trails Connector would increase safety by adding redundancy to the road network leading to key neighborhoods and schools.

“When Suburban Propane was on fire, our youth was stuck in traffic because there was no exit valve,” Gardner said. “This is not a theoretical question about safety. This is reality. It’s the job of your county representatives to understand the difference between reality and ideology.”

Overall, Gardner’s position on transit is to incentivize long-term changes through smart roads to create a Teton County where people aren’t so committed to driving by themselves everywhere they go.

Of course, the final component of reducing single-occupancy vehicles and vehicle miles traveled is improved public transit. For the past 18 months, Gardner has been working as a START board member to help improve efficiency and effectiveness of routes and make them more competitive with individual drive times.

“I’ve spent over 100 hours developing route structures and schedules,” Gardner said. “The secret to getting people on the bus is creating a system that’s efficient and effective for them.”

Gardner has been instrumental as a START board member in getting an employer-funded START pass so employees don’t bear the cost of commuting. This move incentivizes the use of mass transit while also taking the financial stress off commuters, who can then use that transit time for personal and professional growth.

As a Teton County Commissioner, Gardner said he hopes to quadruple the number of commuter runs to key areas, making it easier for commuters to catch a bus that works with their schedule.

Instead of passing these costs along to local governments, Gardner is also working on a plan to place messaging on START buses through appropriate partners, potentially generating over $1 million annually.

“We’ll have new service routes, yet we’ll need less local government funding because we’re bringing in significantly more ourselves,” Gardner said. “When it comes to funding, these are the types of solutions I’m drawn toward.”

Gardner said his transit and road strategies are attainable, simple in their own way and can help make Jackson Hole a model environmental community.

“We must act now,” Gardner said. “2020 must be the decade we turn the vehicle miles traveled around.”

Gardner also plans similar solutions to affordable housing in Teton County that don’t put the strain on local government for subsidies.

Vote for Wes on November 2 or by mail-in ballot.

To discuss his views on Highway 22 expansion, the Tribal Trails Connector and public transit that reduces road use, click here to register for a Zoom call and Facebook Live-streamed discussion on transit issues in Jackson Hole.

The event will take place on Tuesday, September 22 at 6 p.m.