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West Davis freeway receives more criticism

Wetlands commission, UTA and Hooper raise concerns.

First Published Sep 23 2013 04:37 pm • Last Updated Sep 23 2013 11:41 pm

The West Davis Corridor freeway — the proposed northwest extension to Legacy Parkway — has hit a few more bumps, although they appear small compared to a big obstacle that emerged last week when opposition from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became public.

A review of 1,600 comments about the freeway, posted online last week by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), reveals a few more agencies have heartburn about current plans, including the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission, Utah Transit Authority and Hooper City.

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Their reservations go with stronger, more serious opposition revealed earlier by the corps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Interior Department, which contend the project — as designed — would irreparably harm Great Salt Lake wetlands and wildlife.

UDOT has argued its proposed route would protect more homes, businesses and farms.

The project would need a wetlands permit from the Corps of Engineers to proceed. However, the corps is threatening to deny it, saying UDOT’s preferred route "does not represent the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative."

The corps called for fuller consideration of what critics dub the "shared solution" — avoiding construction of a new freeway by improving existing roads and adding more mass transit.

Randy Jefferies, UDOT project manager, said the corps’ objections "may lead to changes in the alternatives, the mitigation or the analysis" for the project.

Among other criticism in the public comments is a note from the mitigation commission, which Congress established to oversee mitigation efforts in Utah for wildlife and wetlands damaged by federal dam-building projects.

The commission wrote that the freeway could hurt federal investments it oversees that bought land for The Nature Conservancy’s Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve. The commission said federal law allows the transportation secretary to give needed approval for the freeway only if other federal groups, such as the mitigation commission, concur it will have minimal impact on wildlife.

"The Mitigation Commission will not concur with a finding of de minimus impact unless the transportation project commits to implement the mitigation measures identified by the commission," it wrote. Those measures include buying more privately owned inholdings in the preserve.

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The commission said avoiding any impact to the preserve "would be justified and defensible on public policy grounds. However, we have been willing to consider some impact to the preserve based on assurances that mitigation would be provided."

Utah Transit Authority said it supports the freeway because it is part of a statewide, unified transportation plan it helped to develop. But the transit agency is concerned the proposed alignment for a ramp to connect Interstate 15 to the freeway "appears to occupy the space needed for future double-tracking of FrontRunner" commuter trains.

FrontRunner currently only has a single track in that area, so mechanical problems or accidents can lead to long delays in both directions. UTA said the proposed ramp alignment "would be an unacceptable impact to UTA because the future double tracking of the FrontRunner system is critical to providing future ridership capacity increases and increasing operating speeds and on-time reliability."

Hooper Mayor Korry Green also raised concerns about the impact of the freeway’s northern end in his city.

He said drivers would need to use Hooper’s rural 5100 West to connect from the freeway’s end to 4000 South, which would be widened. The rural road "has minimal pavement with narrow shoulders, most of it is without curbing. Trees and utility poles along with open drain and irrigation ditches closely line the street," he wrote. "Placing high traffic hubs at both ends of this rural street could be disastrous."

Green added that "corridor planners assure me that their ‘traffic models indicate that the road can handle it.’ This, however, I believe, is beyond logic." He said his city would like to see the freeway extended to 4000 South.


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