Big ideas don’t die overnight, and the idea of a Highway 191 bypass that reroutes through traffic off of Main Street will likely be no exception. However, for now, city and county officials want to put discussion of it aside.
The concept originally gained traction in the 1980s as locals sought to send through traffic around town rather than directly through it. Moab’s Main Street and Center Street both constituted the city’s “main drag” to various degrees at different times.
Today, Moab’s Main Street doubles as a state highway and a retail corridor. Tourists purchasing souvenirs and eating out along the main drag are joined by highway traffic in the form of semis, off-highway vehicles, RVs, and everything in between.
On Tuesday, March 16, Grand County commissioners moved to accord itself with opponents of the bypass by voting 6-1 for a formal position against it.
The move by commissioners signaled to elected city officials and residents of the Mountain View neighborhood that the county sided with them amid the latest iteration of bypass discussions.
It also sets officials up to remove mention of a bypass from a regional transportation plan that city and county officials are drafting, which will establish what its funding priorities are as the Utah Department of Transportation allocates money for projects across the state.
“My opinion is that we shouldn’t include the bypass in the regional transportation plan,” said Commissioner Sarah Stock. “I was reading through [the draft plan,] and it makes mention of the bypass very often, and it also makes clear that if we take the bypass out of that plan that UDOT can’t put money toward pursuing it.”
Stock went on to say that avoiding funding a bypass was reason to take the bypass out of the draft plan, lest the department of transportation interpret that it has “license to move forward with studying.”
Stock likened the situation to the Book Cliffs Highway proposal, a regional plan that Uintah County and others had pursued, against Grand’s will. Study of the plan received funding that Stock characterized as wasted now that the plan is abandoned.
“In the spirit of fiscal conservatism, I think we should take the bypass out of any of our future planning studies until we let some of these other attempts at alleviating tourist traffic work,” Stock said.
Various routes for a bypass exist in the public consciousness. Among the most prominent are variations on a route that takes semis and other passers-by next to the Mountain View neighborhood, at the southwest end of town.
This route most recently came up in a 2018 feasibility study that the Utah Department of Transportation conducted. The study looked at four main routes and some variations on them to assess their feasibility and alignment with local and state goals for building a bypass.
The study assessed a conversion of 400 East into a bypass, a conversion of 500 West, several routes connecting to Highway 191 by going around Mountain View, and even an alignment to take traffic from near Hole ‘N’ The Rock to Kane Springs Road.
Two routes that would have seen a second bridge across the Colorado River, to Potash Road, moved on to further evaluation. One would have taken through traffic down Kane Creek Road from its intersection with Main Street; the other would have built a road southwest of Mountain View.
Other routes prominent in Moab’s imagination are more further afield. One would have the bypass burrow underneath Moab. Prohibitive costs and engineering challenges related to flood mitigation and the like make this idea less than feasible. Others have proposed — usually in jest — that a bypass be installed directly above Main Street.
None of them will receive further scrutiny or consideration for the foreseeable future now that both city and county officials have voted to take formal positions against the bypass.
The lone dissent came from Commissioner Evan Clapper, who said that he wanted to have the commission take a position against the two specific routes that the 2018 study landed on.
“I would feel more comfortable taking a stance that we don’t support any of those options,” Clapper said. “That would leave any mention [of the bypass] in the regional plan more nebulous. I definitely don’t support two loud, busy roads in the valley, but if there was a way that I could trade one for another, maybe I could imagine something like that.”
Clapper went on to talk about the format of Breckenridge, Colorado, where two blocks of the city’s Main Street are pedestrian-only, and through traffic is routed around the city. He said the format created a much more attractive Main Street.
The next closest to dissent that a county commissioner came during the Tuesday discussion was Commissioner Gabe Woytek, who said that he supported the idea of funding a public engagement process on the matter.
“It’s warranted when you have so much discussion on the topic from the public that a thorough public engagement process is the best way to get an idea of where constituents stand,” Woytek said.
Ultimately, the commission approved a stance against further study of a bypass 6-1. Elected officials are now considering removal of all mentions of a bypass from a regional transportation plan the city and county are working to finalize.
The plan will eventually go to the Utah Department of Transportation as the city and county seek funding for its transportation priorities.