October 9, 2014 | The Salt Lake Tribune | By Lee Davidson |
Conservation and citizen groups that oppose the proposed highway have been pushing what they call the “shared solution alternative,” which would enhance existing roads and mass transit to move just as much traffic as the new highway.
“We are actually doing some engineering work on it so that we can fairly evaluate it against other alternatives,” said Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation.
As the Utah Transportation Commission toured UDOT projects in Davis County on Thursday, it received an update on the West Davis Corridor — which some federal agencies worry may destroy too many Great Salt Lake wetlands. Legacy Parkway was built after a four-year legal battle over wetlands damage.
While UDOT had announced in August that it again slowed its schedule for deciding whether to build the freeway to allow more time to talk with project critics including key federal agencies, UDOT told the commission Thursday that it is not just talking to “shared solution” proponents but seriously evaluating their plan.
It recommends such things as redesigning existing intersections to increase traffic flow, improving east-west arterials into efficient boulevards, expanding mass transit, and building a middle lane on Interstate 15 that would serve southbound traffic in the morning and northbound in the evening.
A written update given to the commission said that proposal “will be screened with the same criteria used for all other alternatives” previously evaluated in a draft environmental impact statement.
Results of that evaluation are expected by the end of this fall.
Braceras said if the shared solution alternative “is close to” providing the same traffic and mobility benefits as the freeway, a supplemental environmental impact statement could be necessary for even more evaluation.
The written update said if the “shared solution” does not pass such screening, UDOT anticipates releasing a final environmental impact statement — and a final decision on the freeway — next spring. A final record of decision from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) would be anticipated next summer.
The written update said when the results of the evaluation of the “shared solution alternative” are known, “UDOT and FHWA will determine the next steps and provide an updated schedule as needed.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it worries the freeway as now proposed would damage too many wetlands. Permits from that agency would be needed to build the project, and UDOT has said it has been meeting with the corps to resolve its concerns.
The corps wrote that federal law allows it to permit only the least-damaging alternative route that is practical. It said UDOT’s preferred route — which would begin at Glovers Lane in Farmington — “has the most acres of direct and indirect” wetlands impact of all finalist alternatives studied.
An alternative beginning farther north at Shepard Lane would be less damaging, the corps said. But UDOT has said that route would destroy more homes and businesses. Other federal agencies, environmental groups and neighbors of Glovers Lane also oppose the Glovers Lane option.