A freeway to carry heavy traffic north and south though west Davis County has been on Utah Department of Transportation drawing boards for years. The agency is ready to release its draft environmental impact study and name its preferred route.
But the best alignment may be no alignment at all.
Things have changed since UDOT first started looking at routes for what is now Legacy Parkway, connecting Farmington to Salt Lake City, and its eventual extension northward.
Urban planning has evolved with the construction of light and heavy rail. Planners and residents see the value of creating transit-oriented residential and commercial development that reduces the need for people to commute long-distance. The drawn-out legal battles over construction of Legacy Parkway highlighted the impacts of freeways on wildlife and wetlands and created a greater appreciation for a philosophy of "less is more" when it comes to building highways.
Not least among the impacts are those affecting folks who live in western Davis County, where subdivisions have replaced acres of farmland and open space. A 24-mile, 250-foot-wide elevated highway would divide the communities and neighborhoods it would have to cut through.
Legal challenges to Legacy Parkway eventually were resolved with requirements for a lower-speed, more environmentally friendly roadway with a bike path and without trucks and billboards. But the west Davis corridor highway would be a big, fast, noisy, billboard-marked freeway hurtling all kinds of traffic through what are now quiet residential neighborhoods.
The freeway could also damage 120 acres of irreparable and irreplaceable wildlife along the Great Salt Lake shoreline. And facilitating more driving would add to Utah's unhealthy air pollution. A highway on the western edge of the county would require residents to drive west and then south, hardly in keeping with the state's campaign to reduce driving. Moreover, traffic modeling for 2040 shows little need for this expensive behemoth.
A coalition of residents' advocacy groups and organizations formed to protect wildlife and wetlands have what sounds like a better idea. They want UDOT to consider shelving the highway plan in favor of a better system of east-west connectors focusing on transit hubs with innovative interchanges and express lanes to maximize access to the existing freeway system and emphasize walkable communities where people would live closer to where they work.
It's an excellent idea. Freeways only encourage sprawl and long-distance commuting, neither of which Utah needs.