Local Says Owner of Twisted Branch Road ‘Playing Monopoly With People’s Lives’
The upper stretch of SR 224 to Empire Pass has long been recognized as a risky road. With two commercial vehicle accidents this summer and Bonanza Flat only becoming more popular, a renewed effort to find a solution to traffic safety on the road is underway.
Mark Fischer is a local resident and landowner in the Brighton Estates area of Park City. Since 2001, Fischer has been working on accessibility and safety issues along Empire Pass. Although his efforts have spanned the better part of 20 years, he says he’s not out to be a thorn in anyone’s side.
“I am not trying to be a troublemaker,” Fischer said. “I am here as an advocate for public safety. I’m a volunteer, I’m doing this because I feel it’s the right thing to do.”
SR 224 is currently a seasonal road and is closed each winter above Deer Valley’s Empire Canyon Lodge. The road above the lodge to Empire Pass is notoriously steep and narrow and Deer Valley’s “Bandana” run crosses over it during the ski season. UDOT told KPCW in September there are no planned projects to improve the road.
During the early development years of the Montage and Empire Pass area in the late 90s and early 2000s, Deer Valley was allowed to expand across the highway. During these years, trails were cut, lifts were built, and a road parallel to SR 224 was constructed -- Twisted Branch Road.
The thing is, Twisted Branch Road has never been open to the public. Wells Fargo owns the road and Fischer says Wells Fargo’s development arm, REDUS, has refused to grant public access. With two large commercial vehicles involved in accidents on SR 224 this summer, Fischer did not mince words about Wells Fargo’s decision.
“Bluntly, I feel they’re playing monopoly with people’s lives,” said Fischer. “Every day people go up and down that road, there’s a 146- to 196-foot dead drop to Twisted Branch Road because when they built the road, they deforested the hillside with the cuts and fills. There’s areas of that road where you have to stop below the Ruby lift, it’s only 15-feet-four-inches wide. Two cars cannot pass at the same time.”
Wells Fargo did not immediately respond to KPCW’s request for comment.
Fischer says after the city purchased Bonanza Flat in 2017, traffic, and the need for a safer way to access the open space, needed to become a priority.
According to Fischer’s research, the road averages about 2,500 trips per day and 3,200 on the weekends. He says the access to Bonanza Flat has added, on average, about 1,000 trips per day. When I-80 was closed due to the Parley’s Fire this August, that number spiked to over 10,000 trips.
“When the city purchased Bonanza Flat, the dynamic completely changed,” he explained. “So it’s no longer just a Brighton Estates issue, and in my opinion, it’s just not fair to say that. In an era of social equity, we’re supposed to be helping people, it’s one of the city’s top priorities, let’s please get together and try to work this out.”
Park City Municipal declined KPCW’s request for comment on the issue. Discussion and possible approval of the Twisted Branch subdivision was also voted to be continued at an undetermined future date by city council on October 1st.
Despite the delays, Fischer hopes a solution can be found soon.
“Let’s see if this can all get done by next summer, because you know next summer, the road counts are going to go up because of all the beautiful new trails, four sets of bathrooms, new parking -- the city’s doing a great job with Bonanza Flat, which is drawing more tourism and more locals to it,” he said. “Sincerely, I’m trying to get this and encourage this to be resolved before there’s a fatality. It’s just that simple.”
The Park City Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the Twisted Branch subdivision at their meeting on Wednesday, October 14th.