One of the nation’s most bicycle friendly communities is about to become even more welcoming to those on two wheels.
Construction starts Monday on a $9.2 million project to build a transit hub at the intersection of U.S. 191 and state Route 128 as well as a multi-use path along the Colorado River adjacent to SR 128. The transit hub will include parking, shade shelters and restroom facilities.
When completed in late summer or fall of 2013, there will be an underpass for bicyclists to access an existing paved path into Moab along U.S. 191 without having to dodge traffic on SR 128, county officials said. The underpass will connect Lions Park on the north side of SR 128 with the new transit hub on the south side.
In addition, bicyclists funneling down from several trails in the Porcupine Rim area onto SR 128 won’t have to share the narrow road with vehicles. The project will provide elevated paths on the river side of the road to keep bikers and pedestrians safe along the first three miles of SR 128 to the Negro Bill Canyon trail head.
“Right now, SR 128 is really dangerous,” said Moab City Engineer Rebecca Andrus. “Lions Park is where everything comes together. We call it the confluence.”
“We’re lucky we haven’t had a fatality out there with a cyclist,” added Kim Schappert, director of Moab Trails Alliance. “We’ve been extremely lucky.”
Schappert wrote the grant applications that secured federal funding for the entire project. No state or local funding is being used, she said.
“Kim’s the foundation of this whole thing,” said project manager Dave Dillman of Horrocks Engineers, the firm that designed the project.
The transit hub will have a parking area large enough to accommodate commercial shuttle buses and vans dropping off or picking up clients as well as parking for individual vehicles. As part of a different funding package, Lions Park will get a large restroom, more parking and a covered picnic area, according to the design plans.
The work at Lions Park will be done after the transit hub is finished, Andrus said, because the park area is needed to re-route traffic during hub construction. The Lions Park upgrade will be paid for with about $1.5 million in federal money administered through the Utah Department of Transportation. Andrus said the city must match 20 percent, or about $365,000.
“Essentially it’s a place for people to stop and enjoy some rest,” Mary Hofhine, Grand County community development coordinator, said of Lions Park.
Schappert said the project will improve safety and provide economic benefits.
“It’s keeping people out of that busy intersection,” Schappert said of the underpass. “We are creating new tours that people can do.”
While there may be some economic benefit to the community from the enhanced biking facilities, Grand County Council member Chris Baird emphasized that increased safety is the prime consideration. He said hundreds of mountain bikers ride down from Porcupine Rim each day during tourist seasons and they’ll no longer be in danger on SR 128.
Project engineer Ken Davis said elevated paths will not have to be constructed all along the almost three-mile stretch of SR 128 from U.S. 191 almost to Negro Bill Canyon. Instead, some areas with existing wide turnouts will be utilized as bike paths. But where there is no available space, the raised platforms he calls “pedestrian bridges” will be installed on concrete columns between the river and the road.
Dillman said those columns will be sunk above the river’s ordinary high water mark, and must extend at least five feet into bedrock.
“The pathway elevation will match the roadway elevation,” he said.
About 1,800 feet of elevated pathway must be constructed in several different spots adjacent to the roadway, Dillman said.
The elevated path’s surface will be concrete. In areas where existing turnouts will be used as a bike path, retaining walls will be built to stabilize the ground underneath, he said.
“This is a pretty complex project to build,” Dillman said.
Schappert said Horrocks Engineers gave “extensive attention to aesthetics” in designing the project. The design includes guardrails, retaining walls and other infrastructure that blends in with the landscape, she said.
A two-lane temporary road will be built around the underpass area during construction. Project officials say only minimal traffic disruption will occur during the majority of the project.
Traffic will be reduced to one lane on SR 128 during the work week, with flaggers regulating vehicles. Maximum delays of 15 minutes are estimated.
However, full closures of the road will occur intermittently throughout the work period. Those will be from 11:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and a week’s notice will be given before the closures, officials have said.
Grand County Sheriff’s Department dispatch will coordinate emergency access through the work zones.