SPET by SPET: Safety and sewage on Gregory Ln.

JACKSON, Wyo. — What do streets, sidewalks, and stormwater treatment have in common?

Gregory Lane needs an upgrade on all three, and at the same time.

SPET Proposition asks for  $8,500,000 “for acquiring land, obtaining easements, planning, engineering, designing and constructing the Gregory Lane complete street, water, sewer, and stormwater project.”

A Gregory Ln. overhaul has been on the town’s docket since the late ’90s or early 2000s, says Town Administrator Larry Pardee. It was identified as a priority years ago, but the town has been limited by funding options. SPET is one such option, Pardee says.

What needs to happen?

A lot of things, all at once. Gregory Ln. is a treacherous passageway for cyclists and pedestrians. The narrow, winding road has no sidewalks for safe pedestrian travel. Provided that roughly 100 Teton County School District students live on Gregory Ln and walk it to school every day, that needs to change.

But for that to change, the road needs to change, too. It’s not much safer for motorists than it is for pedestrians — riddled with blind spots and sharp curves, hidden driveways, no curb. So that needs an upgrade.

Then there’s stormwater. A stormwater system on Gregory Lane is basically nonexistent, at least not in a way that works.

“There’s flooding every winter down there,” Pardee says. “It’s such a pain. There’s nowhere for that water to go.”

Stormwater on Gregory Ln. is complicated. Each color shows a separate zone that requires a separate storm drainage system, and all of them have to connect back to the road systems. Courtesy TOJ

If funded by SPET dollars, the project would add gutters to the road to trap stormwater. It would also give the area a new stormwater system to treat that water. In an industrial area like Gregory Ln., that’s especially important. Stormwater collects sediment discharge plus all sorts of hydrocarbons from industrial businesses: oils, gasses, antifreeze, etc. And all that discharge ends up in our waterways, primarily Flat Creek, which is already an “impaired” watershed.

“This is of great, great, great, importance,” Pardee says.

The project would also install a new thaw well, which would help prevent flooding. Nearly every winter, Flat Creek freezes into what’s called “frazzle ice,” which means it freezes from the bottom up instead of top-down. That shelf of ice gradually pushes the water up and out of Flat Creek, flooding Gregory Ln. A thaw well would pump water from the aquifer, which comes out of the ground at between 45–48 degrees, into the creek to prevent it from freezing.

Why SPET?

Sidewalks, roads, sewage. Aren’t taxpayers already paying for those, and shouldn’t the Town of Jackson be responsible for upgrades?

Yes, Pardee says, and Town of Jackon is still responsible for funding a chunk this project. The entire project is estimated to cost $10.5-11.2 million. If SPET is approved, the town will still have to shell out at least $2 million of its own funding.

“People ask me, ‘Larry, why aren’t you using your own funding? We are. SPET is our funding. We’re also using capital and enterprise funds,” Pardee says.

But this is a huge project that comes at an equally huge cost. The town simply couldn’t fund it in its entirety on its own, and the longer the town waits, the more expensive the project becomes.

SPET is one of the town’s “legal, local funding mechanisms.” These types of projects are precisesly what SPET is intended for, Pardee says.

Pardee notes that SPET is a penny of sales tax that burdens mostly visitors. TOJ estimates that visitors pay 60% of the total amount of tax collected.

“It’s an incredible way for guests to help pay for critical infrastructure,” Pardee says.

All at once

If the project is so large and so costly, why do it all at once?

“When you build a house, you don’t build it and add plumbing later,” Pardee says.

Similar principles apply here. Each part of the project is going to require a momentary overhaul of Gregory Ln. It would be a bigger burden to both Gregory Ln. residents and taxpayers’ pockets to try to break it into pieces.

“Why would we go in and build the road only to go back later and tear it up?” Pardee asks. These systems are all connected: the sidewalks to the roads, the roads to the gutters, the gutters to the stormwater treatment system.

The cost may seem high, but it will ultimately cost less to get it all done at once. “We’re doing it in bulk, getting everything en-masse, and planning out the whole corridor,” Pardee says. “We’re going to build it one time, at the best price, even if it’s still a very expensive project. It’s about leveraging and maximizing opportunity.”

It’s also about planning for the future. This is a “big, long-term” investment, Pardee says. It’s one that should hopefully serve the town for decades to come.

Pardee calls Gregory Ln. one of the “nonsexy” SPET ballot items — but what it lacks in glamour it makes up for in urgency.

“This is highly critical infrastructure,” Pardee says.

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