Utah and SLC wanted to punch a hole through I-15. West-siders fought back.

Neighbors have questioned the need for the crossing, what it would look like and how it would be maintained.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) State and city officials proposed an Interstate 15 underpass at 400 North as a part of the highway's expansion, but neighbors say they don't want it. Right now, 400 North features a wall and cul-de-sac on both sides of the freeway, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2024.

A plan to pierce the concrete curtain that slices Salt Lake City in two is on hold after blowback from the neighborhoods it was supposed to serve.

State and city officials had proposed a new Interstate 15 underpass at 400 North but backtracked after residents there consistently argued the passage would be redundant, unsafe and ineffective.

The squabble over the plan — part of the controversial proposal to widen the freeway — erupted as city officials have sharpened their focus on creating new connections intended to heal the east-west divide in Utah’s capital.

“Giving us a tunnel,” Fairpark resident Michelle Watts said, “doesn’t feel like you’re reconnecting a neighborhood when we’ve still got the train tracks.”

Punching a hole through I-15 at 400 North, Watts said, could lead those who use the underpass to reach the downtown core right into the west side’s original barrier: a wall of trains.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A pedestrian bridge spans the railroad tracks at 300 North in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. The access point opened last fall and helps commuters get over the west side's original barrier: a wall of trains.

Watts was one of dozens of west-siders to push back against the proposal for another link between the Fairpark neighborhood, west of the interstate, and the Guadalupe neighborhood, sandwiched between the eastern edge of the freeway and the tracks.

An underpass already exists a block south along 300 North. Last fall, Salt Lake City opened a pedestrian bridge on that street to get across those pesky tracks. Watts said anyone who would walk under the interstate along 400 North would have to go a block south to cross that pedestrian bridge anyway.

“So,” she said, “it just logistically doesn’t make sense.”

City Council members support the idea

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune) The proposed underpass would be located a block north of an existing underpass.

But the City Council members who represent the west side say they’re open to any connection they can get. An underpass at 400 North, they say, would not only be a welcome transportation change but also a step toward righting historical wrongs.

“Once you’re here, it can feel like you’re a little bit trapped,” said Council Chair Victoria Petro, who represents a swath of the west side that includes Rose Park, Jordan Meadows, Westpointe and part of Fairpark. “So, any connectivity that is not car-dependent is going to be important. And it’s going to be important in ameliorating that disconnected feeling that the west side so often has.”

One of those car-dependent crossings exists two blocks north of the proposed underpass.

The overpass at 600 North gets commuters across the interstate and train tracks, but forces them to endure six lanes of traffic, four highway ramps and cars zipping off the freeway. Those who aren’t making the journey from behind the wheel have access to painted bike lanes and narrow strips of sidewalk.

There’s no disagreement about what kind of travel experience 600 North offers: Those who have traveled it describe it as “a mess” and “terrifying” to walk or bike across.

Neighbors say efforts would be better spent making 600 North a more viable connector than cutting through the interstate two blocks south. State transportation officials, meanwhile, say they have plans to improve the road.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cars pass through the Interstate 15 underpass at 300 North in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. State and city officials have proposed a new underpass at 400 North as a part of the highway's expansion plans, but neighbors say they don't want it.

Another improvement, residents say, could be made on 300 North, which carries car traffic, bike lanes and sidewalks but is dim, dingy, poorly maintained and often a place where Utahns experiencing homelessness seek shelter. Neighbors feel a new passage just a block north wouldn’t be any different.

Alejandro Puy, the west-side City Council member who represents the neighborhoods of Glendale, Poplar Grove and a slice of Fairpark, said residents shouldn’t shun the proposal due to fears that the underpass wouldn’t be used as intended.

“I really wanted us to think outside the box and to think that we can actually do this right,” he said. “The truth is we are missing amenities if we cannot see past our shelter crisis.”

West-side worries persist

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chaise Warr, left, and his husband Taylor, at their 400 North home built in 1854, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. Both have expressed their opposition to a proposed Interstate 15 underpass on their street.

West-siders and their representatives frequently make a case for bringing nice things to their part of town. Puy envisions the underpass as a community asset that could host recreational opportunities in addition to sprouting a new connection.

None of that matters, though, if the underpass becomes something neighbors have to monitor, said Chaise Warr, who lives on the Guadalupe side of 400 North and is the Fairpark Community Council chair.

“The people in this area aren’t just going to be the ones to maybe benefit from it, they’re also going to be the ones who are going to have to take care of it,” said Warr, who emphasized he was not speaking on the council’s behalf. “Who is going to be reporting on things that happen there? It’s going to be the people in this area. So, that burden falls on us, and I don’t think that the people who are directly affected are going to want to take on that burden.”

Keiko Jones, also a Guadalupe resident, said the lack of clarity around what would even be under the highway at 400 North worried her.

Some have characterized it as a pedestrian tunnel while others, like Puy, have pitched the possibility of putting up pickleball courts.

“We don’t know who’s to decide,” she said. “Who should we voice our opinions to?”

Where the project stands

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A wall and cul-de-sac on 400 North, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2024. State and city officials proposed a new Interstate 15 underpass on the street as a part of the highway's expansion plans, but neighbors say they don't want it.

The underpass was a part of the proposed I-15 expansion project, so the Utah Department of Transportation took the lead. After hiring a consultant to gather community feedback, which was largely negative, the department decided to hit the brakes on the plan.

One other alternative bubbled up through that process, however: a crossing over I-15 and the tracks at 1000 North.

The idea has gained some traction because it would better serve the Rose Park neighborhood. For now, there’s no way to cross the highway without possibly running into a train north of 600 North.

It’s now up to the city, a UDOT spokesperson said, whether 400 North becomes an east-west access point. If officials at City Hall want the underpass, UDOT says it would keep the crossing in the highway proposal.

Unless there’s a sudden appetite for the project, though, officials have no plans to pursue it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A pedestrian bridge spans the railroad tracks at 300 North in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, just east of a freeway underpass. State and city officials have proposed a new underpass at 400 North as a part of the highway's expansion, but neighbors say they don't want it.

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