Gehrke: We shouldn’t squander Legacy Parkway’s special features before we know what we want it to be

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Legacy is an asset to the communities along the road, and it shouldn’t be undermined in haste, writes Robert Gehrke.

The notion behind the Legacy Parkway was for it to be kinder and gentler than the average highway.

That’s evident in the noise-dampening asphalt, the 55 mph speed limit, and the bike paths and bridges that run along the road. There are also no billboards. And, perhaps most notable, there is a ban on big rigs.

All of this was done to protect the wetlands and the critters that called those expanses home and to assuage the concerns of environmental groups and resolve costly and time-consuming litigation.

Over the past 15 years, it has worked out pretty well for everyone involved. Developments have cropped up along the parkway in a way you don’t really see along a typical interstate. It has been designated as a scenic byway and the wetlands have, to a large degree, been preserved.

However, the big truck ban, as my colleague Lee Davidson reported this week, will expire Jan. 1, 2020. Then what?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sign on I-215, stating that trucks are prohibited from driving on the Legacy Parkway, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018.

Well, the Utah Trucking Association wants Legacy open to tractor-trailers and contends that it was always the plan for the road to be available to them once the 15-year moratorium sunsets.

The city councils in Woods Cross and Farmington are not enthused about that concept, passing resolutions recently to extend the truck moratorium.

Sen. Todd Weiler, who represents much of that area, said he plans to sponsor legislation to extend the big-rig ban. He really only has one shot, since the upcoming session will be the last before parts of the compromise sunset.

But he anticipates there will be opposition from the trucking association. One of its leading arguments is that it would be easier and make more sense for trucks to use Legacy to get goods into and out of the inland port.

The problem is that we don’t even know what that inland port is going to look like and how much rail traffic versus truck traffic will be moving into and out of this future shipping hub. We probably won’t know those answers for a few years.

Moreover, in the past decade, thousands of Utahns have built homes and lives along the highway. Condominiums and houses were built to face the highway — and the Great Salt Lake — largely because of the parkway design.

There are grass berms instead of big, ugly concrete sound walls that we typically see along urban interstates, adding to the quasi-pastoral — as pastoral as a highway can be — qualities of Legacy.

“I think it’s an asset and amenity in their community and they shouldn’t have to give that up,” said Roger Borgenicht of Utahns for Better Transportation, an advocate for keeping Legacy as-is.

Ultimately, Legacy’s future may come down to two other Davis County legislators — incoming House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President-elect Stuart Adams.

Adams is deeply invested in transportation issues and in Legacy, in particular. He was in the House of Representatives and sponsored the 2005 legislation that resolved the litigation that had delayed the road, and he was chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission when Legacy opened three years later. Legacy is, in many ways, his baby. What he says on this issue will be huge, and we are not sure what that is yet.

But this isn’t an issue that must be decided immediately.

Instead, Adams, Wilson and the rest of the Legislature should hit the pause button on Legacy, at least for a year or two. That way we can get a better idea about the traffic needs of the inland port, and policymakers can have time to hear from their constituents who travel Legacy, as well as the people who live along the highway and are likely just learning about the potential truck invasion.

Maybe there’s some middle ground to be had — perhaps opening Legacy to trucks during rush hours to alleviate the snarls along Interstate 15 into and out of Salt Lake City.

But right now, Legacy is an asset to the communities along the road, and it shouldn’t be undermined in haste.

Because as any experienced traveler knows, it only makes sense to pick your route after you know where the heck you want to go.

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