UDOT update: Is burying I-15 an option? How many homes, businesses may be displaced?

Many still hope to stop the project, saying the west side has “already been through enough.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Homes border both sides of Interstate 15 in Woods Cross in January. Some community activists are still trying to stop a planned expansion of the freeway between Farmington and Salt Lake City.

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For many, Interstate 15′s expansion through northern Salt Lake and southern Davis counties is a certainty. After all, state money has been identified for the project and an environmental impact statement is due out this fall.

So these people choose a place at the table to form, rather than fight, the road.

Others, especially those who may be displaced or affected by a bigger highway, aren’t about to raise a white flag. They battle on, aiming to halt the project altogether.

West-siders packed Mestizo Coffeehouse on Wednesday for a chance to speak with Utah Department of Transportation officials about plans for a wider I-15 stretching from Farmington’s Shepard Lane to Salt Lake City’s 400 South. On Tuesday, many also gathered at NeighborWorks’ headquarters to discuss what the capital city’s west side would lose if construction happens.

“We are all against it. We don’t need it. We don’t think the city needs it, and this neighborhood certainly doesn’t need it,” Lucy Cardenas, owner of the popular Red Iguana restaurant, said. “It doesn’t have to go through something like that. It’s already been through enough.”

Cardenas wishes the state would be more creative in how it approaches growth, incorporating more walkability and public transit.

More immediately, she worries about what freeway construction would mean for already-scarce businesses on the west side and others in and around the project area.

“When there’s construction and they have to reroute people, people just don’t go there,” she said. “They’ll just forget about the place.”

UDOT has released a report with all the comments the public submitted in its community-engagement process. The agency also answered frequently asked questions.

At this stage of the study, for most places along the corridor, UDOT favors Option A, which would include five general purpose lanes, an express lane and an auxiliary lane in certain areas in each direction.

How many properties could be affected?

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Property acquisitions are uncertain at this point, but the general notion is that the project would impact 24 residential properties in Salt Lake City, along with three commercial ones and a historic building.

In the North Salt Lake and Wood Cross portion, the work could force the relocation of 10 residential and three commercial buildings. Three historic structures may also be affected, along with Wood Cross High School’s playing fields.

In Bountiful and West Bountiful, the roadwork could impact three residential and 20 commercial buildings, along with a historic structure and Wood Cross Elementary School’s field.

In Farmington, South Park, Ezra Clark Park and Farmington Junior High playing fields could be impacted, along with three residential properties and two historic buildings.

“In the screening report, we’ve done a high-level analysis of what we anticipate could be impacts based off of the general layouts,” UDOT project manager Tiffany Pocock said. “But we still have some further refinements and data analysis to do between now and the [environmental impact statement] draft.”

Though a no-build option remains under consideration until the study’s conclusion, UDOT officials said during the outreach meetings that they hadn’t heard of any project canceled because of community opposition. But, they added, they knew of many drafts that had changed after receiving feedback.

Negotiating versus fighting

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has preferred a seat at the negotiating table and said UDOT has been interested in public input to provide a route more reflective of what the community wants.

“My request of UDOT has been to not eliminate any homes, to look at alternatives and opportunities to create greater access where the highway has created a barrier for decades,” she said. “And to look for ways to make good spaces, positive spaces, not just have more freeway with chain-link embankments on the sides.”

Community members should lead the conversation, she said, and UDOT should adapt its plans accordingly.

“It’s natural for people to not want any expansion and fundamentally, or I should say philosophically, I believe that those dollars would be better invested in improving the public transit system,” she said. “But I believe that this is going to happen, just as the Legislature directed UDOT to do with the funding.”

Though the project may seem like a done deal, grassroots groups have formed coalitions to advocate stopping the expansion.

“It just isn’t necessary,” Glendale resident Billy Palmer, a transportation issues manager for the Westside Coalition, said. “Incentivizing more people to drive through the freeway, which is already a pretty expensive freeway, just incentivizes that for more cars to come.”

The project, he warned, may contribute — along with refineries and mining operations — to Salt Lake City’s air pollution. He argues for better mass transit that incentivizes people to live near where they work.

As the release of the EIS draft approaches, neighbors remain vigilant.

“One of the first things we want to do is come to an understanding of what [UDOT planners] are actually committed to versus what they’re suggesting they’re committed to because getting a straight answer is really difficult when you’re talking about large projects like this,” Palmer said. “And we’re not getting a lot of straight answers.”

Taking the highway underground?

UDOT has tossed dirt on at least one idea: burying I-15 in Salt Lake City.

“The tunnel options would require relocation of 180 to 1,270 more residential households,” UDOT’s website reads, “more than the 24 potential residential relocations estimated” for that portion of the freeway.

The UDOT team reaffirmed that the expansion would be part of a comprehensive plan that would include road, transit, bike and pedestrian projects to meet travel demands in 2050.

“A transit-only alternative does not meet the project purpose.” the website says. “In addition to mobility/capacity needs, the I-15 needs also include addressing aging infrastructure, improving access and providing safer pedestrian and bicyclist facilities.”

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.