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Legacy Settlement: Legislature should sign off on highway compromise

Published November 8, 2005 12:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's time for the Legislature to decide what the legacy of the Legacy Parkway will be. If lawmakers vote to approve the settlement, they will pave the way for a true compromise that will improve transportation through southern Davis County with a minimum of damage to Great Salt Lake wetlands. That's a legacy worth supporting.

By contrast, if they turn the settlement down, they will be voting to continue an expensive legal stalemate that will further delay the day when I-15 commuters get some relief. And for what? To show the world that environmentalists can't push the state of Utah around?

Frankly, that symbolism isn't worth the price.

The lawsuit already has inflated the price of the project about $250 million because of construction delays and other costs. That makes some legislators' blood boil. But rejecting the settlement would likely only make matters worse.

It's time to put this legal battle aside, to declare a truce, to agree on the shape of the project and to build the road. That's what the settlement agreement on which the Legislature will vote Wednesday would do. With any luck, construction could resume next spring.

Opponents of the settlement are saying that the state is caving to legal blackmail. But that doesn't wash. Under the settlement, the highway still will be a four-lane, limited-access road. Those elements were the core of the original design. It still will follow the state's preferred route.

True, the right of way will be narrowed, as will the roadway. The state literally gave ground in that part of the negotiation to reduce wetland impact. The speed limit will be cut to 55 mph, and semi-trailer rigs with five or more axles and gross vehicle weight above 80,000 pounds will be prohibited, except in emergencies.

But remember, the environmentalists had asked for an alternative plan that would have substituted arterial streets - primarily Redwood Road - for the highway. They won't get that in the settlement.

The revised project will put greater emphasis on bus rapid transit or light rail sooner, but in the wake of the success of TRAX in Salt Lake County, many community leaders in Davis County have been asking for this anyway.

So it's hard to see how this settlement is a sell-out to environmental activists. Yes, they have caused the project to be redesigned - improved, actually - but the heart of it remains, and should be approved.