Why building Tribal Trails would make traffic worse on HWY 22

JACKSON, Wyo. — Our whole community is searching for solutions to our seasonal traffic problems, especially on Highway 22. Would connecting Tribal Trail Road to Highway 22 help?

The Tribal Trail Connector Road was first planned in 1992. Since then, car traffic and summer congestion have increased enormously. Traffic engineers’ understanding of traffic has increased and evolved too, and now experts know that building more roads often makes traffic worse.

More intersections, more delay

The first issue with connecting Tribal Trail Road to 22 is simple: bigger intersections cause more delay. Right now, westbound traffic backs up at Spring Gulch Road, which then also backs up the Y. A Tribal Trail bypass around the Y would alleviate congestion at the Y, but it would introduce more congestion where it ties into 22 at Coyote Canyon. The current Coyote Canyon intersection doesn’t work for Teton Science Schools (left turns are difficult and unsafe), and we support calls for safety improvements and a better intersection when WYDOT rebuilds 22. However, adding thousands of additional cars from Tribal Trail Road would add significant back-up to that intersection, and would either include a stoplight or require a underpass exchange more appropriate to urban centers than a scenic valley.

More roads, more cars

Bigger picture, since Tribal Trail Road was planned in 1992, traffic engineers have discovered that adding more roads, lanes, or other infrastructure for cars leads to one thing: more cars on the road. This is known as induced demand. Think about how many times you’ve avoided driving from Town to Wilson because traffic was so bad at the Y. Many other drivers make the same decision every day, so the total number of cars on 22 is less than it could be. But if a Tribal Trail bypass gives drivers two options to get on 22, more drivers will head west. When those two roads meet up at 22, there will be more traffic.

It’s not just theory. The County hired an expert transportation analysis firm, Cambridge Systematics, to model (simulate traffic conditions under future scenarios) what would happen if the County built the Tribal Trail Connector Road. What they learned might surprise you. It’s true, we’d see fewer cars at the Y. This makes sense because drivers would be able to bypass the Y via Tribal Trail. But these cars don’t just disappear – they’ll take Tribal Trail Road and re-join 22 at Coyote Canyon.

Cambridge estimates 1,100 additional cars per day would head west on Highway 22 if Tribal Trail Connector is built vs. if it’s not (in a 2045 projection).

The projected traffic increase on Highway 22. Photo: Courtesy of JH Conservation Alliance

A visual representation of how traffic would increase on 22 – or if you like charts, check out the County staff report here (page 6).

“OK, but traffic is bad and we have to do something, so what DO you propose?”

In recent decades, communities across the country have addressed traffic issues without relying on expensive and counterproductive road-building. These communities have invested in their values – affordable and accessible transportation for locals, protecting wildlife, and maintaining open space – by increasing the use of buses, micro-transit, and other transportation demand management strategies, many of which we’re starting to implement in Jackson Hole, too. Learn about the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority serving the Aspen to Glenwood Springs corridor here.

At the Alliance, we have launched a campaign to address our transportation challenges while protecting the unique character and wild values of Jackson Hole. As you’re reading this, our nationally-renowned consultant team from Nelson\Nygaard is working with Cambridge Systematics on additional modeling and then a valley-wide transportation solution action plan.

We expect that action plan will include forward-thinking, innovative solutions like expanding transit service, making dangerous intersections safer, dedicating funding to walking and biking improvements, managing parking and congestion, and building the voter-approved network of wildlife crossing structures. Once Nelson\Nygaard has the ideas together, we want your input on what you’re most excited about. Stay tuned for an early 2022 launch.

As a national model of a strong community living in balance with nature, Jackson Hole can invest in effective transportation solutions instead of just building more roads and making the problem worse. We are committed to working with our whole community to find those solutions. Join us.

About The Author

Sponsored by Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance

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