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Tribal Trails study likely to start soon

December 27, 2017 GMT

An agreement to OK a study of the Tribal Trails Connector is nearly ready for review by Teton County elected officials, according to county staff and the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

The agreement would contract WYDOT to complete preliminary design planning and gathering of public comment about extending Tribal Trail Road to Highway 22. A draft has been in the works and circulating among state and county officials for review since the county requested it in a June 12 letter.

WYDOT District Engineer Keith Compton said the agreement is “relatively close” to being ready for the county commissioners, and the state agency is working through the last details.

“Primarily it’s just some of the language of the document and making sure that reflects both WYDOT and the county’s understanding of how we’re moving forward,” Compton said.

The town and county have identified the Tribal Trails Connector as a high-priority project, and the county has held an easement for the road since the Indian Trails subdivision was built in the 1990s.

The 2015 Integrated Transportation Plan says the connector would add road-network redundancy, offer possibilities for new START bus routes and provide “considerable relief” for congestion at the “Y” intersection at Broadway and Highway 22.

The connector faces strong opposition from residents of nearby subdivisions, who are concerned about through traffic diverted into their neighborhoods and school zones.

Worries were heightened when commissioners expressed interest in contracting WYDOT for the connector’s planning process, exacerbating fears that the road will be too big. But the county has said the project will remain in local control.

“What we want to do is provide a service that meets the county needs,” Compton said.

Teton County Director of Public Works Sean O’Malley said writing the agreement has taken almost six months because many parties have had to review it and because this is the first time the county has asked WYDOT to run a public road planning process on its behalf.

The transportation plan requires that major capital projects like Tribal Trails be guided by a “project charter” approved by electeds. A charter includes environmental reviews, consideration of alternatives and public reviews at various planning stages. That’s what WYDOT would have to implement for the county upon approval of the agreement, O’Malley said.

“When you have a county agency essentially asking the state to be their consultant, there’s not a lot of precedent that I’m familiar with,” O’Malley said. “It’s new, and I think it’ll work great. We just have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s to make sure everyone’s comfortable with the arrangement.”

O’Malley said the charter process is similar to federal National Environmental Policy Act project reviews, which WYDOT has more experience with.

“They’re experts at it,” O’Malley said. “They do it all the time with their projects, so it made sense for the county to find the experts and ask them to run it for us.”

In his legal review of the drafted agreement in November, Deputy County Attorney Keith Gingery made a point to add provisions that would allow the county and the public to put a halt to the project at various junctures in the planning process.

“I didn’t want us to sign an agreement that gave a green light to Tribal Trails without a lot of public input at multiple stages along the way,” Gingery said. “It’s a controversial road. The commissioners would like a lot of opportunities to review along the path of its planning.”

Once WYDOT sends the document back to county staff and staff feels comfortable with it, O’Malley will bring it forward at the next available Board of County Commissioners meeting, he said. It’s not yet scheduled for an agenda.

Modeling Tribal Trails is on the list of pilot projects that county staff will use to learn a new traffic model tool. The model is expected to be ready this spring, and staff said its findings will guide the connector project.

The preliminary estimated cost for the project is $3 million.