Utah County officials: We need more freeways
By Lee Davidson
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Aug 15 2014 02:22PM
Lehi • As the Utah Transportation Commission rotates its monthly meetings around the state, it usually takes a few minutes to hear concerns from local officials.
That stretched to two hours Friday as a parade of worried northern Utah County officials begged for new freeways and other road projects to handle exploding growth there.
"Lehi’s not sick because of our roads. We’re in cardiac arrest," said Mayor Bert Wilson. His city’s population swelled from 19,000 in 2000 to 55,000 now, attracting major new businesses such as Adobe, IM Flash, Cabela’s, the Outlets at Traverse Mountain, and big office complexes around Thanksgiving Point.
But other businesses considering coming to the area are getting cold feet, he warned, because of bad and worsening traffic congestion, especially near Interstate 15 and State Road 92 at Thanksgiving Point.
"We don’t want to drive them off because we can’t provide for them," Wilson said.
Utah County expects to nearly double its population to 1 million by 2040, said Shawn Seager, director of regional planning at the Mountainland Association of Governments.
"Lehi, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain are what we call the epicenter of growth," he said, adding that his planning agency expects this fall to call formally for three new freeways in that area to handle extra traffic from growth.
One would convert State Road 73 to Eagle Mountain and Cedar Valley into a freeway.
"S.R. 73 needs to be a freeway in 10 years," said Steve Mumford, planning director for Eagle Mountain. He said that city’s population grew from 2,000 in 2000 to 26,000 now, and it expects to triple that by 2040.
Within a decade, Seager said, his planning organization also likely will call for converting 2100 North in Lehi into a freeway, and for finishing the Mountain View Corridor from Salt Lake County into northern Utah County (paralleling Redwood Road) as a freeway.
Both of those highways are planned to become part of a single Mountain View Corridor freeway, "but we need to have that happen sooner than we thought," Seager said in an interview.
Mountain View, so far, generally has seen construction only of its frontage roads, with the actual freeway to come later.
"There’s tremendous need for preserving corridors," Utah County Commissioner Larry Ellertson said. "Now would be the time to get some of that land when it’s relatively inexpensive."
Local leaders praised the transportation commission and the Utah Department of Transportation for some projects now under way in the area, but pleaded for more.
Among current projects is one to connect 2100 North in Lehi to State Road 73, which would provide a more direct link to Interstate 15 for residents of Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs.
UDOT also has launched a study about how to address congestion along I-15 in northern Utah County, especially around the intersection with State Road 92.
"These things are going to cost money. … We’ve got to have more money," said Jeffrey Holt, chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission. "I don’t see any other way to do it" but for leaders to seek it from the Legislature. It raises transportation funds, and the commission decides how to divvy them statewide.
In 2013, lawmakers passed HB377 to gift-wrap money for numerous local projects.
That included giving $4.5 million to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for transportation work of its choice that would "have a significant economic impact within the state."
GOED earmarked $3.1 million of that to design and build a project on State Road 92 in Lehi at Center Street to improve access to undeveloped land near the IM Flash plant.
The Transportation Commission added that to official road plans Friday.
State Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, a member of the Transportation Interim Committee, said the group is looking at a variety of possible tax increases and other ways to raise money for transportation.
They "may or may not make people happy," he said. "But, in the long run, they are absolutely necessary with the amount of growth we’ve got."