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Legacy Parkway: It's a lesson in political compromise

Tribune Editorial
Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated:09/11/2008 07:25:36 PM MDT

"Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly . . . ."
The Zoo Story

The Legacy Parkway, the showpiece of Utah's highway system, will be open to traffic on Saturday. It is only 14 miles long. That's roughly the same number of years it took from planning to completion, at a cost of $49 million per mile.

The $685 million price tag for Utah's first parkway is high in terms of construction. But the scenic four-lane roadway running through south Davis County - given its transit through multi-government involvement, potential environmental disaster, political recriminations and the court system - has turned out to be worth every penny.
Indeed, the parkway's value will far exceed its cost if the many antagonists who were forced to work together to make Legacy the marvel that it is today also succeed in creating an enduring model for integrated transportation along the entire Wasatch Front.

Legacy's extraordinary evolution began in 1994 when the Legislature funded a study of Davis County transportation alternatives, followed a year later by then-Gov. Mike Leavitt's announcement of plans for a multi-lane highway west of I-15 that would run the length of the Wasatch Front from Ogden to Nephi. It was billed as the best remedy for paralyzing commuter traffic snarls along I-15 and explosive growth.

But the plan for Legacy Highway was breathtakingly myopic, a traditional approach to problems that require an array of solutions, mass transit chief among them.

For example, the highway's original 14-mile segment would have compounded commuter traffic problems, delayed mass-transit alternatives, fed the ugly sprawl that accompanies new urban highways, and destroyed acres of the Great Salt Lake wetlands that are home and way station to millions of birds.

Fast forward to Saturday's opening of the Legacy Parkway, a very different roadway along a less-destructive route that skirts a massive nature preserve, has parallel bike and hiking trails, a 55-mph speed limit that reduces noise and fuel consumption, disallows heavy trucks and is, for a road, a thing of beauty.

Best of all, a heavy-rail mass transit option, the increasingly popular FrontRunner, is already up and running.

Hard lessons often are the best lessons. We need only apply them.

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