On weekday afternoons, I-15 in Salt Lake City has traffic jams that rival those of Los Angeles. In response, Utah has taken a California approach: Build more lanes.
Starting next spring, the city's main
thoroughfare will be reconstructed and doubled in size at a cost of
over $1 billion, the largest public works project in Utah's
history. Commuters dread five years' worth of construction
slow-downs; the EPA worries that the dust and emissions from the
machinery will push Salt Lake over its pollution
Looking further down the road, Gov. Mike
Leavitt, R, recently revived a plan for a freeway hugging the
western edge of the Wasatch Front, where nearly 80 percent of
Utah's 2 million people live. "Growth is inevitable," says Ken
Hansen of the Utah Department of Transportation. "The demographics
demand some frightening and bold solutions."
Leavitt's "Legacy Project," a 120-mile road
running parallel to I-15, would cost between $8 million and $12
million per mile; the governor says funding would require the joint
efforts of government and private enterprise.
money isn't the only concern. Farmers, hunters and
environmentalists note that the proposed highway corridor includes
lakeside wetlands and some of the last remaining farmland on the
Wasatch Front. West Weber, a fifth-generation farmer, told the Salt
Lake Tribune, "A new road would do nothing more than ... increase
development, driving us off the land."
Department of Transportation is conducting environmental and
feasibility studies on the Legacy Project; public hearings will
Meanwhile, Congress is expected to
approve funding for a 15-mile light rail track down the center of
Salt Lake Valley. Though the $312 million undertaking will improve
the efficiency of Salt Lake's public transportation system, it will
do little to alleviate highway congestion or air pollution, says
Bill Barnes of the Utah Transit Authority.
light rail and I-15 expansion are scheduled for completion just in
time for the Winter Olympics in 2002. Work on the new freeway would
last well beyond.
Former HCN intern Jared
Farmer writes from Provo, Utah.