A court order halting construction on the "Ski Connect" road in Sandy until a public hearing is held likely will delay completion of the $1.4 million project until next year - if it gets built at all.
Third District Judge Scott Daniels issued an injunction Monday halting construction of the road, which would connect 90th South and Seventh East with 94th South at about 1150 East.Daniels said that even though his decision would cost taxpayers money the Utah Department of Transportation is bound by its own regulations to see that a public hearing is held on the road.
It could take until late September for UDOT to complete its public hearing process, leaving too little time to finish the job before the construction season ends about a month later.
The business owners and home owners who oppose the road believe a public hearing is the forum they need to prove the road should not be built. Their attorney said that if UDOT doesn't come to the same conclusion the issue could end up back in court.
Work on the road, which began in early July after Daniels turned down a request by the business owners and homeowners for a temporary restraining order, was halted on July 29 when he issued a preliminary restraining order.
What changed Daniels' mind then and what he based his opinion on Monday was a UDOT regulation that says public hearings will be held, or the opportunities for public hearings will be afforded, on all projects meeting certain criteria.
Those criteria, according to the 1970 regulation, are that the project must be new, have a substantial social, economic or environmental impact, or change the function of existing roads.
Attorneys representing UDOT, the city of Sandy, and both the Sandy Mall and the Coalition for a Better Sandy spent two hours Monday deciding whether a hearing meeting those requirements was ever held.
City Attorney Wally Miller said two public hearings were held by the Sandy City Council in 1976 that would fulfill the regulation because UDOT representatives participated.
Daniels agreed, but said transcripts would have to be produced from those public hearings 12 years ago before he could be sure UDOT officials reviewed the information before making a decision on the road.
Neither Miller nor Assistant Attorney General Donald Coleman, representing UDOT, said they had been able to locate transcripts of the public hearings. Apparently, the hearings were merely summarized.
Transcripts also were not available for public hearings held by the Wasatch Front Regional Council on an areawide transportation plan produced in 1977 and updated in 1987 that included the road.
The road was designed to ease commuter congestion, but proponents have dubbed it the "Ski Connect," saying it would provide an easier-to-follow route for tourists headed to the ski resorts.
It has caused concern among owners of businesses located at the busy intersection of 94th South and Seventh East, including the Sandy Mall, who say they would lose 30 percent of their customers once the new road bypasses them. Area homeowners fear the additional traffic the road will bring and worry about what will happen when the road is expanded from the planned two lanes. A historical building, the Wilson Farmstead, would be also affected by the road.