The people won. But it was an expensive lesson.
If the Legislature ultimately approves the bargain between state road-builders and environmentalists, the people of Utah will get a four-lane road which relieves traffic congestion on I-15 through southern Davis County while doing minimal damage to the fragile wetlands of the Great Salt Lake. They also will get a much stronger mass transit system than was originally proposed, and a 2,200-acre nature preserve.
Bottom line, they will get a parkway instead of a freeway. That's a major improvement over the original plan that the environmental organizations held up in court.
Was it worth the four years of delay and the $240 million in costs that have been added to a project that was originally supposed to cost $451 million?
That is harder to judge. In the short term, perhaps not.
But if this agreement sets a precedent for highway projects that pay much closer attention to sensitive ecosystems, in the long run this legal agony and inflated price tag will have been worth it. Utah will be a more beautiful, more livable place. There should be less damage to habitat for birds and fish, plants and people.
And we will, at the same time, have the transportation improvements necessary to support a growing population and a vibrant economy.
The biggest surprise in the proposed agreement may be the jump start it would give to TRAX in southern Davis County. If the $2.5 million that UDOT would kick in toward environmental studies leads to light rail being constructed, the area would be served not only by a new road but by both commuter and light rail or rapid-transit buses.
One of the environmentalists' main arguments all along was that mass transit should precede road expansion. Under the agreement, I-15 reconstruction would be deferred until 2020. This is a fruition of that goal, and it could point the way to the future of urban transportation on the Wasatch Front.
UDOT's big gain is an end to lawsuits and a green light to resume moving dirt next spring. And there's one further hopeful note: a dispute avoidance and resolution procedure to prevent a replay of this kind of expensive legal blood-letting.
Now that's something everyone can embrace.