Short-sighted road expansion projects are likely to exacerbate the crisis.
Last week, the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board announced that there have been 50,000-plus visitors in Jackson town limits every day in July. The numbers represent large leaps over any other time on record, as much as 50% daily increases.
The drastic uptick in visitors has led to a number of issues, including shortages at local supermarkets, long lines at local businesses, and most noticeably, terrible traffic congestion on roads. The traffic problem has become so bad that many locals are being forced to change daily routines and make sacrifices to avoid getting stuck on the roads.
“I only go to town every 10 days or so for groceries [or] errands.” said an Instagram user on a recent Alliance post regarding the visitor surge. “Giving up favorites like dinners out, and dancing at the Wort. It’s just too busy to actually enjoy our hometown.”
“We are hurting in more ways than you could put into words,” said another community member. “This life is not sustainable. We are beyond the breaking point. If we don’t find a solution soon, there’s no coming back from this.”
It’s clear that traffic has become a major issue and Jackson residents are eager for solutions.
At first, it might seem like building more roads would help solve congestion. Road and highway expansion has been a popular endeavor for big cities facing similar dilemmas. However, cities that expand their roads soon find themselves with even worse traffic than before. How can this be?
It’s due to a transportation phenomenon called “induced demand,” which is the idea that building more roads will encourage more drivers to use them. We can better understand induced demand by imagining a congested road in town – lets say Highway 22 – during peak hours. If we were to add additional lanes, traffic would fill the new space available, and congestion would be reduced. However, this reduction would only be temporary. A short time after the expansion project, people who once avoided the congested roads – people who used public transportation, drove on off-peak hours, or worked from home – will be incentivized to take advantage of the new roads and shorter commuter time. Once again, there will be an increase in the number of commuters, and lead to even more drivers on the road than before. In short, building new roads creates a feedback loop that leads to more and more traffic.
Traffic delays are annoying, but congestion also creates serious environmental and social challenges for our community. More drivers on roads means increased emissions from vehicles, hurting our air quality and adding to climate pollution. More cars also mean more wildlife-vehicle collisions – or, after a certain amount of traffic, wildlife giving up on age-old migration and movement routes entirely. Quality of life will decrease for locals, with commuting times increasing and wait times at local businesses getting even longer. The character of our quaint, western town will also change as we pave over more of Jackson Hole and put more cars on the roads.
There is no silver bullet to solve this traffic challenge. But the Alliance is committed to helping our community solve this crisis in a way that benefits our residents while protecting our wildlife, wild spaces, and community character. In the next few months, we will be releasing a transportation vision and plan to improve mobility without the conventional and detrimental approach of constructing more roads.