While government officials cheer the completion of Utah's interstate, some small business owners in Box Elder County will be sweating about their future.
"There's nothing I can do about it, except hope I can survive," said Jay MacFarlane, owner of a gas station, grocery store and motel in Riverside, about 10 miles away from Tremonton. "My businesses will be too far off the highway to make much of a difference."The last piece of Utah's interstate is a 22-mile section from Tremonton to Plymouth. Before it opens Tuesday, traffic heading to and from Idaho has to leave the freeway and drive through Riverside, often stopping at MacFarlane's establishments.
MacFarlane's concerns about a new freeway destroying his livelihood aren't new. Since crews started laying ribbons of cement and steel across the state in the mid 1950s, Utah towns either shriveled up or blossomed depending upon where they were with respect to the new stretch of freeway.
There were dire predictions that Nephi would become the latest freeway fatality when I-15 bypassed downtown businesses in 1984.
But Nephi annexed the interchange south of town, keeping it in the city's tax base. And since the $2 million interchange was completed in August, the city's sales tax revenues have actually increased, Economic Development Director Glenn Greenhalgh said.
"When the freeway bypassed us, a few businesses did suffer and some closed, but new businesses have picked up that slack plus a little bit extra. We've actually set a new all-time high in gross retail sales after we were bypassed."
Nephi Chamber of Commerce President Jens Mickelson agreed, saying, "More businesses are turning over a serious amount of money. When you look at our overall business picture, we're peaking - we've never done better."
Nabbing an interchange and developing it is the secret to having a freeway make or break a community, said Eugene Carr, director of community development at the University of Utah's Center for Public Policy and Administration.
Carr said Nephi not only annexed the interchange but also got the state to reroute the freeway from its previous, and less costly, path in west Juab County to the foothills on the east side of town.
"A freeway can change the access to markets and cause significant readjustment," he said. Making it work "depends on how close the community is and how well it can manipulate the system."
However, Nephi's moves to capture interstate traffic have cost the city's once prosperous downtown business area.
Nephi officials are encouraging business growth near the interchange; part of that encouragement includes a proposal to create a highway commercial zone at the city's south entrance. That push is causing what some call economic dislocation - or worse.
Vard White, a former city councilman and owner of Vard's Drive Inn, 626 N. Main, said he opposed the interchange and opposes the rezoning. White said the proposed zone will continue to divert traffic from the downtown area to the south end of town.
"This is not what I'd call economic development - this shifting of revenues from one part of the city to another," he said. "Some of the businesses in the south end are not even owned by people in the area, so the money doesn't actually stay here."
Greenhalgh admitted that downtown businesses are smarting but said the interchange is still too new to determine what its long-term effects will be.
"It could be the final nail in the coffin or it could be the best thing to ever happen here. It will just take time to find out," Greenhalgh said.
Both Greenhalgh and White agreed that the city's location still is a definite plus.
In Tremonton, however, at least one businesses will rely on its reputation after years of motorists waiting at the four-way stop just east of town then deciding to grab a bite.
"I'm sure the highway will cut down on some of our volume, but we have a pretty good reputation amongst our customers," said Bob Rich, co-owner of the Crossroads Family Restaurant. "We're located halfway between Pocatello and Salt Lake, and most people stop to rest about halfway while travelling."
The rest of the community businesses may not be so lucky, though, Rich said. "Traffic will be funneled away from the businesses there. Fortunately, we've always kind of been our own entity, and I think we'll hold a lot of our customers."