The consensus regarding highway development through Provo Canyon was clear Thursday night at a public hearing that drew several hundred people. The only question left in people's minds is whether the Utah Department of Transportation will pay attention this time.
From actor-director Robert Redford to the mayors of Provo and Orem, nearly all who spoke at the hearing support a proposal prepared by the Provo Canyon Parkway Committee. The proposal is a modified version of one of four recommendations in a draft supplemental environmental impact statement commissioned by UDOT.The hearing, directed by Utah Transportation Commission Vice Chairman Wayne Winters, was held to gather comments on improvement alternatives for a 22-mile stretch of U.S. 189 from the mouth of Provo Canyon to U.S. 40, south of Heber. A similar hearing was held Wednesday in Heber.
Those alternatives are:
-No-build, which would maintain the highway as is. The present level of roadway repair and maintenance would be continued, and present construction areas would be landscaped. Cost would be $13.5 million.
-Accessibility alternative, which would emphasize local road-access needs. It would provide a two-lane facility with paved shoulders and be designed for speeds of 40 mph. Sharp curves would be modified, and present construction areas would be landscaped. Cost would be $32 million.
-Mobility alternative, which would emphasize the arterial function of the road and be designed for 60 mph traffic. It would be a four-lane divided highway that, in the upper canyon, would be relocated to the west side of Deer Creek Reservoir. Cost would be $101 million.
-Multiuse alternative, which would be a compromise local access and arterial functions into a four-lane divided highway designed for 50 mph traffic. The alignment would closely follow the existing highway. Cost would be $88 million.
Utah County Commissioner Gary Anderson, co-chairman of the parkway committee, said the committee recommends a modified multiuse alternative, which would combine the safety of the multiuse alternative and the environmental and recreational sensitivity of the accessibility alternative.
The modified multiuse alternative would cost about $30 million less than the multiuse alternative and substantially decrease needed excavation.
Anderson and parkway subcommittee chairmen told Winters and Transportation Commission Chairman Sam Taylor that they were appalled the impact statement ignored Provo Canyon economic, aesthetic and recreational issues.
The canyon has 49 attractions that drew more than 2 million visitors last year, and yet the impact statement ignores that issue, Anderson said.
"We felt a lot of our input had fallen on deaf ears as far as this document is concerned," Anderson said of efforts by the committee, which was organized last fall to develop a consensus on the canyon's uses. "We hope that is not the case."
He said the parkway committee had worked hard for a consensus and asked that adequate funding be guaranteed for mitigating damage from highway improvements, that fish and wildlife habitats not be ignored and that funding be set aside for development of a pathway for hikers and pedestrians.
"We've waited 21 years. That's certainly long enough," said Redford, who voiced support for the parkway committee's recommendation and asked that construction not be delayed any longer. He also expressed disappointment that some of the committee's concerns were ignored in the impact statement.
"Just put back what you dig out. That's not a big request," he said regarding revegetation. Redford said he remains optimistic, but questioned whether government bureaucracy would continue to ignore public concerns about Provo Canyon's future.
Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins said the City Council had endorsed the modified multiuse recommendation, and asked that further delays be avoided.