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Traffic fears get a hearing

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Some Utahns have lost confidence in Olympic transportation plans, while others are just looking for ways to cope with anticipated traffic jams.

Transportation planners held public meetings in Salt Lake City on Thursday morning and in West Valley City and Ogden on Wednesday night to address concerns. Most people were resigned to the fact the 2002 Winter Games will disrupt their driving habits for 17 days and basically wanted to know how to get around.

Kathleen Kelly works for a company that manages a property at 175 S. West Temple. She came to the meeting because she was concerned about building employees getting to work.

"None of our tenants are upset about the inconvenience," Kelly said Thursday. "They're happy to be able to deal with it."

Acceptance was also a theme at Wednesday night's meetings.

"We'll just have to deal with it. It's the Olympics. You have to deal with it," said Patricia Rapp, a school bus driver whose route to Kearns High School will put her in the middle of Utah Olympic Oval congestion.

Some said the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's attempt this week to block ticket sales to Salt Lake Valley residents because of expected overload on I-80 is a poor way to deal with anticipated snarls.

It's an admission that transportation plans are "falling apart" weeks before the Olympics, said Tom Price, chairman of the SLOC environmental committee.

"Mountain venues are going to be a disaster. The thing is they have known for years," he said.

Earlier this week, SLOC announced it was discouraging Salt Lake residents from purchasing tickets to events at Utah Olympic Park and Soldier Hollow on some dates. Pop-up screens on the SLOC Web site direct would-be buyers to Smith'sTix locations outside Salt Lake County.

That was the last straw for resident Jay Lyman.

"I've tried to be positive about the whole thing until now, but this just pushed me over the edge," he wrote in an e-mail.

With added congestion and smog, he said, people should be offered tickets at a discount, "not snubbed by SLOC in such a crass manner."

Michael Huerta, SLOC managing director for transportation information, dismissed the notion that the traffic management plan is a failure.

Planners are using computer models to make traffic forecasts based on ticket sales and estimated numbers of buses and cars traveling I-80.

"It's something we look at pretty closely and feel pretty confident," he said. "We feel good about the transportation system."

SLOC has seen a surge in reservations for its Mountain Venue Express since dropping the price to $5 two weeks ago. Some 42,000 people have signed up for the shuttle to Park City area venues (from Salt Lake City) as well as Snowbasin (from Ogden) and Soldier Hollow (from Provo). Feb. 10-13 and 16 are sold out.

Price said the transportation plan is tailored for Olympic sponsors and media.

"If you're an average guy, you're out of luck. And that's no small deal," he said.

About 200 people packed Stansbury Elementary School, 3050 W. 3100 South, hoping to get answers to their traffic questions. The school is a short distance from the E Center, site for two or three Olympic hockey games a day.

Co-workers elected Judy Gauger to find out how they were going to get to their office in a business park on Redwood Road just off 2100 South, two already congested streets that will be worse at Games time.

"(Transportation officials) really didn't offer any options," the West Valley woman said. "I guess we'll just have to find our own way."

In Ogden, where only a dozen people attended the meeting, residents said their area will be one of the more impacted. Competition at The Ice Sheet will run almost the entire duration of the Olympics.

Tom Marcheschi and Harold Brattland live on Filmore Street, where much of the traffic that typically takes 46th Street — the only Ogden street closed during the Games — will divert. Brattland said both Filmore and Taylor streets will see an increase in traffic, since 46th Street is the only "real efficient outlet."

Marcheschi said the traffic will definitely take some getting used to but said Ogden residents can "be creative" in getting around during the Games.

Glen Passey, special agent for the U.S. Secret Service, acknowledged that there would probably be some snags in the beginning but said those would quickly be worked out and things would be less of a hassle and more fun.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com; lculler@desnews.com