Legacy Parkway opens; real test is Monday morning commute

Published: Saturday, Sept. 13 2008 6:54 p.m. MDT

WOODS CROSS — You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief as the Legacy Parkway officially opened Saturday. That sigh came from state and local leaders and from construction officials, but will likely be echoed Monday, when the first commuters get their crack at Utah's first parkway.

Saturday, though, spelled relief for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who began trying, nearly as soon as he took office, to broker a compromise out of the sticky litigation that held up the parkway's construction from 2001 to 2006.

It spelled relief for John Njord, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, who has been reminded daily by a bright orange sticker in his briefcase to "build Legacy now."

"The Legacy Parkway is done," he declared to Huntsman at the parkway's grand opening in Woods Cross. "The Legacy begins today."

And with a countdown by a crowd of hundreds, Huntsman, Njord, Utah Transportation Commission chairman Stuart Adams and others on motorcycles, flanked by a motorcade of classic cars, Utah Highway Patrol motorcycles and construction company pickups, began driving south from the new 500 South interchange, one of four new interchanges designed to improve traffic circulation in Davis County.

They were followed by actual traffic from the north. And shortly after 4:40 p.m., traffic was flowing freely in both directions.

And there it is: Utah's newest road. It's almost hard to get over the fact that such a fuss was made over 14 miles of pavement.

But it just wouldn't be Legacy without it.

It's been a big deal since local leaders began discussing the reality of a West Davis Highway, a highway envisioned by local planners since the 1960s, but something that became nearly tangible in the 1990s.

Construction started with a $451 million budget, but a lawsuit by the Sierra Club, Utahns for Better Transportation and then-Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson in 2001 led to an injunction that halted progress on the roadway until 2006.

The lawsuit had challenged the decision by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and Army Corps of Engineers to allow Utah to build the parkway, but a deal brokered in late 2006 allowed it to move forward again, but with a much higher budget of $685 million.

Marc Heileson, southwest representative of the Sierra Club, said Saturday that he's happy with the way Legacy has turned out. Original plans had called for a six-lane interstate.

The agreement between lawsuit plaintiffs and state leaders toned down the parkway to a four-lane asphalt road with a 55 mph speed limit and a prohibition against large trucks unless there are emergencies.


E-MAIL: jdougherty@desnews.com

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