SYRACUSE — Critics of the West Davis highway say Utah's transportation agency has its head stuck in the last century with its plans to build the corridor through the heart of farming country, wetlands and communities that will have to choke on the exhaust from tailpipes.
"The days of big freeway building are over, but apparently not here," said Roger Borgenicht, co-chairman of Utahns for Better Transportation.
Multiple groups, including the Sierra Club, the Great Salt Lake Audubon and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, staged a news conference Tuesday on the grounds of Syracuse Arts Academy, which would abut one the alternative routes under consideration.
"The Utah Department of Transportation has created a false dilemma by giving people two bad choices," said Todd Jenson, with Attorneys for Clean AIR & Environment. "In doing so, they pit community against community and people against each other."
The proposed project is a 24-mile expansion of Legacy Parkway that would run from Centerville to Marriott-Slaterville in western Weber County between the Great Salt Lake and I-15. UDOT is currently considering two location options for the corridor, the Glovers Lane option in Farmington and Shepherd Lane option in Kaysville.
The transportation agency is slated to release its draft environmental impact statement next week and presumably settle on one of the route alternatives.
Jenson and others say those two alternatives force either choosing an option that rips up wetlands and farms or takes out families' homes, neighborhoods and businesses.
The coalition of groups issued a joint declaration Tuesday in support of what they call the "shared solution" and urged that the alternative be given fair consideration as well.
Distributed to the governor's office, UDOT, the Utah division of the Federal Highway Administration and multiple Utah lawmakers, the "shared solution" embraces several components, including emphasis on locally focused roadway design. The "solution" also calls for innovative intersections and "boulevard community development" that incorporates housing, retail and employment on any given stretch of roadway.
Borgenicht said the value in boulevard communities is that they reduce vehicle miles traveled by placing housing, jobs and services close to each other.
UDOT's proposed West Davis highway fails in that regard in that it is not planned near any light-rail stations or bus stops, promotes urban sprawl and does not foster economic growth, said Lori Kalt, president of SaveFarmington.org.
"It brings tons of air pollution — air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution and sound and visual pollution," Kalt said. "This is no Legacy Parkway."
The group said the highway proposal flies in the face of the Wasatch Front Regional Council's 2040 Plan's primary goals — to promote increased mobility with mass transportation.
Rather than focus on new highways, the group said UDOT should take care of the roads and highways it already has and focus on improving arterial routes that could decrease congestion and curb air pollution.
Tracy Silva, another opponent at Tuesday's event, said she has already noticed problems with her breathing after moving to the state nearly eight years ago.
"In the years spent here, enduring the inversions, I have felt a decrease in the health of my breathing," the Syracuse resident said. "I can't even begin to imagine how much worse it could become with this freeway."
Silva said she organized a petition signed by 141 parents asserting that if the freeway goes in next to Syracuse Arts Academy, they will pull their children from the school.
Dr. Courtney Henley, with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said pollution levels jump 20 to 30 times higher next to freeway than in a general community, giving rise to an assortment of severe health consequences, including asthma, stroke and developmental disease.
"The studies are irrefutable," Henley said.
UDOT spokesman John Gleason said the environmental study due to be released is just one step in a long review of the proposal, which is subject to modification along the way.
Gleason said one of the options on the table is no highway.
"There is really no final decision until after we have all of these public meetings where we encourage community input and take into account all the feedback," he said.
A final decision will not be made until 2014, Gleason said.
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