Carol Bold: Stop the plow first, think later highway plan in Washington County

(Photo courtesy of Carol Bold) Sunset at Pioneer Hills near St. George in Washington County.

Since moving to St. George in 2010, I have voiced my objection many times to the proposed Northern Corridor Highway. You may be wondering why I am so concerned by this highway, as I myself am a transplant to the area.

While I may not have grown up here, I have been coming to St. George my entire life. My grandparents lived within walking distance of Dixie Rock (aka the Sugarloaf), which you could literally see from their back porch. My grandmother was born and raised here, having grown up in one of the oldest houses in town, so I suppose you can say my roots in this area run deep.

Not long after my grandfather passed away, I ended up buying my grandparents old house on Hope Hill, where I currently live with my husband and two children. One of the great advantages of where we live is the direct access to the backcountry trails and in particular the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and Desert Reserve, which is within walking distance of our home.

On any given day of the week you will see us hiking with our dog up on Owen’s Loop, City Creek Trail, Pioneer Hills and T-Bone. There are not a lot of places left in this country with outdoor recreation and backcountry trails right out their backdoor. It is what continues to bring people to this area and fuels a huge part of our tourism industry. To cut off and dissect access to such amazing trails and backcountry access is essentially bleeding this area dry of its most coveted possessions.

This is Washington County’s seventh attempt to get approval for this highway, and there is no doubt that they are using the current political climate to fast track this project. The current administration has recently weakened the National Environmental Policy Act, and Utah officials have been quick to take advantage of this window of opportunity.

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart just proposed a bill that could legislate the proposed Northern Corridor into existence. Aside from being a big slap in the face to the more the 16,000 people who wrote comments during the previous public scoping period, this bill would make this project hardened against future lawsuits.

I think it’s time we take a hard look at the direction we are headed as a state and a nation. As a country we are growing, and we must acknowledge what that growth means for our previously small to midsize towns. In a century we have gone from a population of around 100 million to 300 million people nationwide. In Washington County we have gone from a mere 6,764 in 1920 to an estimated 186,000 people in 2020. With the current population growth and urban sprawl estimated we must be smarter, more strategic and varied in our approach to addressing our region’s community transportation needs.

Instead of cutting a new highway, we could work on improving and expanding upon the roads we already have. Why damage a sensitive and vital conservation area when there are countless and frankly far less costly transportation alternatives to be addressed?

By updating our current automated traffic control system, we could greatly increase the efficiency of traffic movement and congestion throughout the region. By working on expanding our bus and public transportation options we could alleviate the need for so many vehicles on the road. By adding more bike routes, walking trails and pedestrian shopping/business areas we can work towards promoting more active modes of transportation here in Southern Utah.

There are better solutions to our growth problems, but they require a lot more than plow first, think later. Washington County is currently making a fortune on new building permits and development fees yet cannot be bothered to produce a more comprehensive traffic analysis for our region. If the county continues to allow this endless sprawl without better addressing the transportation needs of its citizens, then why are we not holding them accountable?

The proposed Northern Corridor Highway is nothing more than a costly solution to a problem they created. Why should we be expected to reward their lack of foresight and poor planning by allowing them to plow through our beloved public lands?

All Utahns are invited to participate in the Northern Corridor Highway public comment period that ends Sept. 10. Review the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and visit https://conserveswu.org/ for helpful comment writing tips.

Carol Bold

Carol Bold is an artist, mother and outdoor enthusiast based out of St. George. You can see her artwork at www.carolbold.com.

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