“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
There are other, less drastic circumstances that can encourage people to focus their thoughts and come up with useful new ideas. Sometimes, there’s no choice. Other times, it is a decision to think more creatively.
One example of the former is trying to figure out how to handle the increasing flow, or lack thereof, of traffic up the highways to the ski resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons of Salt Lake County.
And a case where the latter might be useful is, well, just about everywhere else. But specifically on a stretch of the U.S. 89 highway in Davis and Weber counties that the Utah Department of Transportation wants to enlarge into a freeway.
A group of experts and experts-to-be from the University of Utah have looked at the mess that is the state highway that hugs the side of the mountain on its way up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Alta and Snowbird ski resorts.
Much of the land in the canyon is vertical and/or deserving of being protected as open space, trails or watershed. That means that the solution to the growing problem of more traffic can’t be just to lay an extra lane or two of concrete.
Recommendations from the U. study — which altogether could mean up to $200 million worth of work — include a system of tolls that charge more at peak times and less to cars carrying more people, more transit with accompanying parking, and a visitors center, at the mouth of the canyon. Other ideas include digital applications to keep people informed on busy and not-so-busy times on the mountain and to help driver better plan their trips and to help people needing a ride find those with the means to give one.
In other words, we see that we can’t reasonably make room for more cars, so we do what we can to nudge people into a decision to drive fewer of them.
Away from the canyons, traffic is filling up U.S. 89 to the point that UDOT leaders want to turn a segment of it between Shepard Lane in Farmington and I-84 in South Weber from a four-lane highway to a six-lane freeway. Many area property owners object, forcefully enough that they are taking the state to court to block the plan.
There are other alternatives, the opponents argue, to the state’s preferred method of linking I-15 with I-84. Methods that don’t spend $274 million. And that don’t leave the town of Kaysville vivisected by three major highways.
UDOT should try harder to not think outside the box — if there is one — and think inside the canyon, looking for ways that don’t just carry more traffic, but encourage less of it.
Because, whether our highways are in the canyons or not, there will never be enough cement.