Saving a Few Minutes on Commute. But at What Cost?
Salt Lake Tribute Op-Ed
By Roger Borgenicht, Ann Floor and Lynn de Freitas
We know we can't build our way out of congestion. Evidence from around the country shows that expanding and building new freeways ultimately increases congestion by attracting more automobile use. Nevertheless, on Thursday, a public comment period began on the final environmental impact statement for construction of the West Davis Highway, and it ends Aug. 31. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) says the road is needed to cut auto commute time by a few minutes during peak rush hour.
At an expected cost of more than $600 million, the 19-mile, high-speed, four-lane, divided roadway through western Davis and Weber counties would run from I-15 and Legacy Parkway in Farmington, northwest to West Point. It would impact homes, subdivisions, two elementary schools, community parks, farms and the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve. It will make air quality worse and will cause negative human health impacts. All this just to cut auto commute time at rush hour by a few minutes.
Utahns for Better Transportation (UBET) is a coalition of nonprofit organizations and community groups that has been working for better transportation solutions for the Wasatch Front for more than 20 years. Our aim is to improve air quality, build community, promote transit and more travel choices, and maintain and protect our exceptional quality of life in Utah. We can accomplish these goals by reducing, rather than accommodating, the predicted increase in the number of miles we drive each day.
In 1997, when Gov. Mike Leavitt announced his vision to build the Legacy Highway, UBET championed a campaign that instead advocated for shared solutions including more balanced transportation investments to support transit, bike and walk trips. That effort culminated in a parkway, not a freeway, with a smaller right of way (footprint), slower speeds, quiet pavement, no trucks, no billboards, and the 2,100-acre Legacy Nature Preserve. Transit (FrontRunner) and bikeways (Legacy Trail) were also implemented as part of the Legacy shared solution. This would not have happened without UBET.
When UDOT proposed a northern extension of the Legacy Parkway (West Davis Highway), UBET once again advocated for the Shared Solutions Alternative instead of building a new roadway. Our goal was to improve existing east/west arterials to provide convenient access from the west side of Davis County to I-15 and FrontRunner. The alternative encouraged land use patterns that included mixed-use town centers, boulevard roadway configurations (providing safe walking and biking while also maintaining traffic flow), improvements to I-15 overpasses, and convenient bus service.
After many months of meetings with UDOT and municipalities along the proposed route, the UBET alternative initially passed UDOT's primary criteria (reduce rush hour congestion and delay) with high marks. However, when UDOT reran the alternative a second time, using an updated model, it failed to meet its criteria. This prevented the Shared Solution Alternative from advancing to UDOT's second criteria evaluation that would have considered impacts to the built and natural environment.
We commend UDOT for the collaborative process used to develop and evaluate the Shared Solution Alternative. And, although UDOT is planning to build the new road to include some features similar to those on Legacy Parkway — quiet pavement, dark-sky lighting, and bike and pedestrian trails — current plans will allow for heavy trucks and higher speeds, and the possibility of billboards, which are prohibited on parkways, including Legacy. The heavy trucks will bring more noise and pollution and will tear up the road surface faster, and a higher speed limit will be less safe. And while we are pleased the highway will incorporate some of the features we believe will make a better road, we are heartsick for our friends in Davis County whose property will be negatively impacted. Some will lose their homes, and many others will have their neighborhoods permanently changed. The very reason they chose to live in west Davis County will be forever altered by the road.
We will be weighing in on the environmental impact statement for the proposed West Davis Highway, which is available on UDOT's website (www.udot.utah.gov/westdavis). We encourage you to join us in expressing your opinion. Let's build community, not roads, by promoting more travel choices for everyone.
Roger Borgenicht and Ann Floor are co-chairpersons of Utahns for Better Transportation. Lynn de Freitas is executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake.