Does Utah need a $270 million bridge across Lake Powell? Rep. Phil Lyman thinks so.

Lyman says money from Biden’s infrastructure bill could pay for the bridge.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Low water levels at Bullfrog resort, on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Rep. Phil Lyman wants to see a new $270 million bridge constructed between Bullfrog and Halls Crossing, replacing a ferry service that has struggled to operate due to low reservoir levels.

No bridges cross Lake Powell for roughly 90 miles between the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona and Hite at the upstream end of the reservoir.

For years, the Utah Department of Transportation operated a ferry between Hall’s Crossing and Bullfrog in the middle of Lake Powell, but due to record low reservoir levels and other issues, the ferry is not operational.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, believes it’s time to replace the ferry with a more reliable alternative. At a subcommittee hearing held at the Utah Capitol earlier this month, Lyman requested lawmakers approve $2 million for an engineering study of a large bridge to cross rugged canyon terrain near the ferry site.

“Right now,” Lyman said, “90% of Lake Powell is in Utah but 90% of the traffic is flowing to Arizona because Arizona has so many more services there for Lake Powell. Bullfrog and Halls Crossing could be a world-class resort if we could connect the dots.”

The proposal would carry a hefty price tag, however: approximately $270 million, according to preliminary estimates.

“That’s a lot of money for UDOT. It’s a lot of money for the state,” Lyman said, but he pointed to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Joe Biden signed in November, as a potential source of funding. The law allocates $26.5 billion for bridge repair and construction across the country.

Lyman said he reached out to the office of Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, who voted against the infrastructure bill and whose district includes Lake Powell.

“Congressman Curtis … basically said that’s chump change in this bill,” Lyman told the Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee on Feb. 2.

But of the billions of dollars set aside for bridges under the bill, only $225 million will go to Utah and many of the state’s bridges need repair. The state currently has 62 bridges in poor condition, according to a federal database, and there are more bridges in the state that are in fair condition than in good condition. Utah will receive additional funds to upgrade its roads and highways.

If Utah used all of the bridge funding provided by the infrastructure law to build the Lake Powell bridge, it would still likely be on the hook for at least $45 million for the project. Curtis’ office did not respond to multiple invitations to comment.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, spoke in favor of the bridge proposal at the hearing, and San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams attended the meeting to show his support.

In an interview, Lyman said he believes the project fits the objectives of the infrastructure law, but he said the Lake Powell bridge shouldn’t necessarily be prioritized over bridge repairs elsewhere in the state.

“It’s not something where I’m saying, ‘This is do or die for the area,’” Lyman said. “If it doesn’t happen, it’s still a beautiful area, and we’ll still keep working on the resorts aspect up there at Halls Crossing and Bullfrog.”

Lyman said he has had discussions with Ticaboo Partners, a concessionaire with the National Park Service that runs campgrounds, lodging, off-road vehicle tours and other tourism-related services on the northern end of Lake Powell near the site of the proposed bridge.

On a conflict-of-interest disclosure form Utah lawmakers are required to file with the state, Lyman wrote, “As a CPA [certified public accountant] and business developer, I am working closely with Ticaboo Partners, LLC on their development plans for Ticaboo ... and Hite Marina.”

Lyman told The Salt Lake Tribune that he has no formal partnership with the Ticaboo Partners yet, but he added that his own company, Recapture Investment Group, could become an investor in Ticaboo Partners at some point.

The Lake Powell bridge would shorten driving times between central and southeast Utah if another roads project moves forward that would connect Monument Valley with Highway 276 near Halls Crossing. The $30 million project would include a $10.5 million bridge across the San Juan River near Clay Hills Crossing.

The Legislature will decide whether or not to prioritize Lyman’s $2 million request to fund the engineering study later this month.

Zak Podmore is a Report for America corps member and writes about conflict and change in San Juan County for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.