A squeaky wheel gets the grease, or so the adage goes.
For 25 years, officials in the west part of Salt Lake County have been squeaking for a westside expressway near 40th West. But there has never been enough local money to build the much-talked-about "West Valley Highway."Now, local officials say, the time has come to start squeaking to those who have the money: the Utah Legislature.
"We're going to become the squeaky wheel on Capitol Hill," said Craig Dearing, president of the West Jordan Chamber of Commerce.
"I can guarantee you there will be some kind of West Valley Highway legislation (for state funding) in the next session," said one west-side senator.
Dearing and others on the west side of Salt Lake County, including several state lawmakers, are increasingly upset with transportation planning efforts that emphasize expanding I-15 by two lanes in each direction and adding a light rail system from Sandy to the downtown area.
Neither option addresses the traffic problems on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, where congestion is the worst, officials say. The light rail concept, in particular, will do nothing to help residents west of I-15.
"In effect, the light rail won't help capacity problems on I-15 or the west-side routes," said Ron Delis, engineer for planning and programming for the Utah Department of Transportation. "It will simply be an alternative route for captive riders - the poor, the elderly, the very young."
Delis says UDOT has been careful not to make any commitments of financial support for the West Valley Highway, but with highway needs shifting rapidly to the west side, UDOT would like to see the highway built.
Key city, county and business officials from the west side of the county have been meeting with state lawmakers to coordinate their efforts and discuss funding options, particularly the option of making the West Valley Highway a state road and forcing the Legislature to address the issue.
Currently, the unbuilt highway is considered a local road and must be funded entirely with local funds, said Delis. "But in all likelihood, it will become a state road soon."
Engineers estimate it would cost $30 million to build the West Valley Highway from 21st South to 90th South (4.1 miles would be in West Valley, 2 miles in Salt Lake County and 3.5 miles in West Jordan). It would then cost up to $3 million more per mile to extend the highway south through South Jordan, Riverton and Bluffdale.
According to west-side officials, state and county transportation officials are ignoring several key aspects of a comprehensive highway planning study - a study that recommends both I-15 expansion and light rail, but only after the West Valley Highway and another major north-south highway at 56th West are completed.
"Why don't we build the transportation system that is in the study?" questioned Dearing. "What we need is not light rail, but more north-south corridors without a stoplight every block. Light rail is no advantage whatsoever to the people on the west side, and that's where most of the county's growth is taking place."
Dearing said many people, including some members of the Utah Transportation Commission, believe the west side of Salt Lake County is "still sugar beets and cows and one-horse towns." Until the commission visited recently, many had no idea that West Jordan has grown to 49,000 residents and West Valley is now the second largest city in the state.
Building the West Valley Highway at $30 million would be considerably less expensive than either the light rail ($225 million) or the I-15 expansion ($400 million). And it would accomplish the same purposes: lower air and noise pollution, and facilitate north-south traffic, Dearing said, and benefit more people in the process.
Both light rail and I-15 expansion would be federally funded projects, however.
"We don't disagree that light rail and I-15 expansion need to be done," Dearing said. "We're saying the West Valley Highway and 56th West should be done first as a top priority."
A West Valley Highway and/or a 56th West Highway would not only be a much-needed economic boon to West Valley, West Jordan and Kearns, but would also open up the southwest portion of the county to major economic development.
"Industry only has a few places left to expand, almost all of them on the west side," Dearing said. "We're not competing with Sandy or Salt Lake City for business. We're competing with Phoenix and Albuquerque and San Jose. But if we don't have the transportation infrastructure, we can talk until we're blue in the face and they won't come in."