A longtime ban against big-rig trucks on Legacy Parkway now seems all but certain to disappear Jan. 1, after a Senate committee on Thursday voted down a bill seeking to temporarily extend it.
“I have to sell my house now,” Cynthia Sahm yelled at the Senate Transportation Committee after it rejected the bill. The Woods Cross resident lives adjacent to the parkway, and has a child with cystic fibrosis. She says increased pollution from trucks will force them to leave.
“They didn’t listen to the people,” Sahm said, shaking with anger. The hearing was packed with neighbors — wearing flowers to represent the wild ones that grow along Legacy — who worry the parkway is about to change essentially from a country lane to be another Interstate 15. “They only listened to the trucking industry.”
Among senators who opposed the bill in a 1-4 losing vote was Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, who owns a trucking company. The trucking industry gave Utah legislators $21,750 in donations last year — small compared with many industries — including contributions to three of the four senators who voted against the bill.
The truck ban was part of a compromise 15 years ago between the state and environmental groups to end a lawsuit that had blocked construction of the 11.5-mile highway in Davis County.
Besides the truck ban, the deal imposed a 55 mph speed limit, allowed only two lanes in each direction and mandated rubberized pavement to dampen sound — all to help protect adjacent wetlands and wildlife. It also has included a system of trails, and needed no sound walls that block views. The deal expires Jan. 1.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, attempted to extend just the truck ban for another 2 1/2 years. He noted that opponents argue that an extension could hurt truck traffic to the proposed inland port in Salt Lake City — but said a delay could clarify needs and plans for that port and allow seeking alternatives.
Residents in neighborhoods that built up along the parkway testified they moved there without any disclosures that the truck ban was temporary, and located there specifically to face the highway because of its eco-friendly design and its views of wildlands. They may soon be blocked by possible new sound walls.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, expressed little sympathy.
“You’ve had a long time to work on this,” he told the crowd. “There isn’t a community out there that lives next to a freeway that doesn’t have the exact same issues.”
He added, “I don’t know how we look at the needs of this one community and not look at the needs of the entire freeway system across the Wasatch Front.”
With the amount of growth projected in coming decades, Anderegg said upgrading freeways is needed, and “establishing this kind of precedent is really bad policy. I’m sorry.”
But Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, the only senator who voted for the bill, said approving the delay actually “would set a precedent that we need to start thinking about our air, and not just our transportation.”
Rick Clasby, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association, said truckers opposed the truck ban originally, and have been waiting patiently for it to expire as promised.
“We expect that deal be honored, and that we have the opportunity to use that highway and choose the most efficient routes,” he said. “Nothing is more harmful to the trucking industry than delay and congestion.”
But a parade of residents and environmental groups pleaded for an extension to protect the eco-friendly nature of the highway.
“It offered a more pleasurable and lower stress driving experience than our freeways,” said Roger Borgenicht, co-chairman of Utahns for Better Transportation, which joined environmental groups in early lawsuits against the highway.
“Communities and neighborhoods turned their front door to Legacy Parkway rather than, as originally planned, turning their back to sound walls from the freeway.”
Woods Cross resident Angie Keeton said wildflowers now line Legacy. “Between the mosquitoes and refineries, we have made a community” to enjoy nature along Legacy. “Please don’t throw that away,” she said. “Please give us time to find a better way.”
The Sierra Club of Utah, which led lawsuits that helped create Legacy’s design, has said it is not ruling out new legal challenges to protect the area.