For the past decade, there has been little argument that there's a transportation problem at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The question is how to fix it.
The dozens of answers come with plenty of disagreement.
Three thousand people a day stop at the visitor's center during the fall and spring peak seasons, and four times that number drive the scenic loop. Packed parking spaces at turnouts force motorists to stop along the road. That creates safety concerns for pedestrians and emergency vehicles, and blocks the path for bicyclists and sightseeing, said Lee Kirk, Red Rock's supervisory outdoor recreation planner.
And that doesn't account for what could be thousands of additional motorists from a proposed development next door.
The latest transportation study will begin collecting data this year about traffic habits on the 13-mile scenic loop. Consultants plan to publish a draft of ways to fix the gridlock in October 2012 and present a final assessment in January 2013. Answers to the key questions, what the solutions might be and how much funding is available, remain vague.
The Bureau of Land Management has many options, researchers said, including adding parking at the loop's first three stops, a shuttle service or an off-site park-and-ride system. Noting that nothing is off the table, BLM officials joked they could make the loop a four-lane road.
Or they could do nothing.
The BLM and transportation analysis group Volpe National Transportation Systems Center hosted two open houses with the public Thursday to kick off the research. The $430,000 study, which was funded through federal and state grants, is expected to last 18 months. Volpe Center will collect data on traffic and parking patterns on the scenic loop and analyze the environmental impact of possible solutions.
Any project construction wouldn't start until March 2013.
Several smaller studies have been conducted in Red Rock since 2001, but none has been implemented.
"We're going further than any other study now," Aaron Jette, a Volpe technical analyst, said. "One of the reasons the chance of implementation is much greater now is the problem is much greater."
One citizen worried the new study could be a repeat of years' past: nothing more than a waste of money on what could be a simple solution or none at all.
"If it were as easy as parking on the road, we wouldn't be here," Kirk said.
The public and researchers agreed plans must consider climbers, hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, commercial tour groups and the environment.
But what's not being considered in the research, several attendees said, is Jim Rhodes' plan to build thousands of homes and a town square atop Blue Diamond Hill, which overlooks the canyon.
"I have no idea what they need to do. I don't think a shuttle would be a good thing. And I have no idea how they are going to address Rhodes," said Janice Stevens, who visits Red Rock about four times a year. "What we don't need is another 20,000 people on Charleston (Boulevard). That certainly would affect this park."
Rhodes' plan, which has been met with heavy public opposition, is not being tied to this study because Volpe's research is focused on the scenic loop, BLM officials and researchers said.
"It's not within our scope," Jette said, noting that future traffic patterns will be taken into account. "We do want a long-term solution, though. We're not just addressing the problem here now, but addressing what might be here in the long term."
Contact Jessica Fryman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0401.