Neighbors of Legacy Parkway appeared before the Utah Transportation Commission on Friday for one last unsuccessful attempt to stop the conversion of that scenic country highway into an Interstate 15-like freeway with faster speeds, big rigs and more noise and pollution.
Despite their continuing pleas, plans are proceeding to allow big-rig trucks and to raise the speed limit there from 55 mph to 65 mph beginning Jan. 1, said Robert Miles, director of traffic and safety for the Utah Department of Transportation.
“I think it’s outrageous,” said Roger Borgenicht, co-chairman of Utahns for a Better Transportation, after the commission quietly listened to pleas during a public comment period without response. It also declined an earlier request to give the issue a formal agenda spot.
“They didn’t respond to our very valid concerns. They didn’t ask us any questions. They just sat there,” an upset Borgenicht said.
However, UDOT previously said that it — not the transportation commission — has legal power over the decisions regarding Legacy. It has repeatedly said they are now final and are proceeding.
It comes as a 15-year deal is ending that had settled a lawsuit by environmental groups that had blocked construction of the 11.5-mile highway in Davis County. For 15 years, it required the lower speed limit and truck ban plus trails, dark-sky lighting, rubberized asphalt that dampens noise, protection of wetlands and a limit of four total lanes.
Neighboring cities attempted unsuccessfully to block these changes in the Legislature this year, while truckers supported the move, saying they have been waiting patiently to use the highway for 15 years and need it with increasing congestion and a new inland port coming to Salt Lake City.
Also, as Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, then argued, “There isn’t a community out there that lives next to a freeway that doesn’t have the exact same issues…. 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.”
But on Friday, several neighbors again argued they did not know Legacy’s operation and amenities were temporary when they bought homes because of its nearby trails and views, and said changes will worsen safety, pollution and the environment.
“Our purchase decision was made based on Legacy Parkway and the path beside it,” said Lise Embley, who moved from Virginia to a North Salt Lake home adjacent to Legacy. “We had no idea the traffic patterns were about to change, so I encourage you to please reconsider.”
Krista Singleton said she talked last night quietly with a friend by an open patio door. “I remarked we can stand here and have this conversation normally today, but in January we’ll probably have to talk like this,” she said with a raised voice.
Clark Burbidge said he rides a bike daily on Legacy’s trails and contends they may no longer be safe with higher speeds and big trucks — as trails are between 5 feet and 60 feet from the road, with no protection except a thin wire fence.
“If you want Legacy to have the same usage as I-15 through the same corridor, then it needs to be upgraded to the safety level of I-15,” he said.
Borgenicht said several citizen and environmental groups sent the commission and UDOT a letter earlier this month arguing the 15-year deal allowed changes at its expiration, but did not mandate them. They argued UDOT should carefully study changes to wetlands and communities before proceeding, and asked that it be put on the commission’s agenda.
He said a response letter from UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras “addresses none of those concerns whatsoever… saying only that UDOT has complied with its obligations under the settlement.”
In that letter, Braceras also wrote that the changes are not discretionary as the groups contend.
Borgenicht said opposition groups will continue to fight, perhaps with lawsuits or by attempting again to seek changes through the Legislature.