September 25, 2008
Salt Lake Tribune
By Brandon Loomis
Environmentalists are praising Mountain View freeway planners for their responses to air-pollution fears and mass-transit desires in a final environmental study that the state will release Friday.
In fact, it won’t be a freeway for years to come, but a limited-access, four-lane expressway that’s still governed by streetlights at major intersections. A full eight-lane freeway is expected to cost $3 billion. Officials were not immediately sure Wednesday evening how much the scaled-back approach saves, but so far the Legislature has granted only a few hundred million for initial work.
The plan would build four lanes west of Bangerter Highway from Salt Lake City to Lehi in conjunction with a bus rapid-transit system that runs on curb-separated lanes down the center of 5600 West. It also would put millions into pollution controls at schools along the route.
Utah proposes to spend $3.1 million filtering air inside the schools and $1 million to monitor the air outside. The state also would buy land in West Valley City to relocate the closest school – Hillside Elementary – if school officials decide to move.
“In our ideal world the freeway would have shifted locations entirely, farther away form the schools,” Utah Moms for Clean Air co-founder Cameron Cova said. “But given that that location is pretty much a done deal, we’re pretty excited about the aggressive approach to air filtration. It’s exciting that UDOT responded so well to citizen groups and comments.”
That’s part of planners’ job, Utah Department of Transportation project manager Teri Newell said. Many of the public comments were about air pollution, and the state acted on those.
The state cannot afford to build the full eight-lane proposal anytime soon, and traffic models don’t predict it will be necessary at least until after 2015, Newell said. The state still will acquire enough land to build an eight-lane freeway someday.
The expressway won’t have access from residential streets, but only at major intersections spaced about a mile and a half apart, Newell said.
The Sierra Club is pleased the plan includes bus rapid transit that will link Salt Lake City International Airport to the three west-valley light-rail lines currently in development by the Utah Transit Authority.
“We still need to keep reading [the study], but we like what we’ve seen so far,” Sierra Club regional representative Marc Heileson said.