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Use smart lights and roundabouts, not new roads, to address congestion

A message from county commissioner candidate, Christian Beckwith:

JACKSON, Wyo. — We don’t live here for the roads. We live here for the ecosystem. And yet we are proposing to build an expensive new road, the Tribal Trail Connector (TTC), right through one of the last remaining pieces of prime wetland in our county.

Every candidate for elected office except me supports building the TTC. My reasons for opposing it are first and foremost that it goes against the priorities of our community as stated in the 2012 Comprehensive Plan: to “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.”

Protecting our ecosystem not only helps preserve our quality of life, our social cohesion and our economy; it also serves as an example to the rest of the world of the ways we can maintain the delicate balance between the built and natural environments.

If we build a road through an intact wildlife and scenic corridor, we’ll further degrade an ecosystem that we’ve vowed to protect while continuing to move away from the model of a sustainable community we can and should become.

But my opposition to a TTC is based on far more than a simple love of this place and a desire to protect it. A TTC doesn’t make sense on a number of levels.

We’re told we need a TTC for “redundancy:” in the face of an emergency, our service vehicles need access routes that would allow them to bypass existing roads if they were congested.

Property owners of Indian Springs Ranch have already given permission to the County to use their routes in the event of an emergency.

Furthermore, twice a week, a full-size truck drives up and down the Tribal Trail pathway to empty the garbage cans. If a full-size truck is already using the pathway, our service vehicles could as well. Redundancy is already in place.

A TTC wouldn’t generate much, if any, lasting value to our transportation challenges, either. It is estimated a TTC would save 60 to 90 seconds of commute time before induced demand left it just as crowded as the existing highway.

Think about it: If you had to go from, say, Smith’s to the Village, and you knew the TTC were there and that it could shave even a little bit of time from your commute, would you use it? I would. So would everyone else, until the TTC offered no benefit over taking Highway 22.

Another consideration can and should be the expense, and who’s going to pay for it. A TTC would cost an estimated $7 to $8M. Those costs would be borne by us, the taxpayers, in the form of further increases to our property taxes—taxes that are already a burden on working families who are trying to make ends meet in one of the more expensive small towns in America.

At any time, our fundamental obligation to taxpayers is to safeguard their money. That obligation has been amplified in the time of COVID.

In June, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners approved a feasibility study of the TTC for an estimated cost of $800,000, causing some to wonder, as was reported in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, why they “would spend close to $1 million on a project they deemed nonessential in early budget talks during a down year.”

Two weeks later, it was announced that the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation employee housing and maintenance facility at 400 Snow King Ave was $735,000 over budget. A month after that, it was reported we need an additional $4M to $6M to finish the new firehouse.

I doubt I’m the only citizen who finds it ironic that, paid for by higher taxes, the TTC would reduce ecological integrity, which in turn would decrease property values. But why are we paying for a feasibility study of the TTC—a project that earlier this year was deemed nonessential—in the midst of an economic downturn while we continue to have budget overruns in other governmental departments?

In the case of the TTC, there are better ways to address our transportation issues that we should pursue before we create expensive new roads that will degrade our ecosystem, waste taxpayer money and do little to alleviate our congestion problems.

The majority of the traffic congestion along Highway 22 is caused by two bottlenecks: the intersection at Spring Gulch and the intersection of Highways 22 and 390.

Instead of building new roads and widening our highways, we should make our current infrastructure more efficient. Smart traffic lights are a relatively inexpensive, off-the-shelf way to do so. Not yet in place at Spring Gulch or the intersection of Highways 22 and 390, they would improve the movement of traffic in both places.

Roundabouts at Spring Gulch and the intersection of Highways 22 and 390 are another proven and cost-effective way to address congestion. When done well (the Gros Ventre roundabout is not done well), roundabouts are intuitive, easy to navigate and increase the efficiency of traffic flow. Less expensive than widening highways, roundabouts are also less environmentally disruptive, and would help us alleviate the bottlenecks where the current congestion occurs, obviating the need for a TTC.

Our traffic problems are real. But we have an obligation to this and future generations, as well as the magnificent landscape that drew so many of us to Jackson in the first place, to squeeze every last ounce of efficiency from our existing transportation infrastructure before we commit to new roads and widened highways that will further degrade our ecosystem and that we know, thanks to the law of induced demand, will inevitably fill up.

If you want someone who will fight to protect this ecosystem and the quality of life and experience it provides for all of us, please vote for Christian Beckwith for Teton County Commissioner on November 3. Learn more about his campaign at www.christianbeckwith.com.

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