Construction of an underground walkway beneath State Street is scheduled to begin in April, connecting the ZCMI Center with Social Hall Avenue and doing away with a hazardous midblock crosswalk, developers and state officials said.

Zions Securities Corp. will build the $2 million project, which includes doubling the size of the small park on the west end of Social Hall Avenue. The development firm has secured approval from the Utah Department of Transportation to tunnel under State Street and the city will sponsor a public hearing on the park and sidewalk improvements this month."The window we are looking at is to complete the project between the April and October conferences" of The

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Kent Money, president of Zions Securities, the property development arm of the LDS Church.

Plans call for a small glass building on the east side of State Street, enclosing escalators that will take pedestrians 25 feet underground. The 16-foot-wide walkway will exit on the Main Street level of the ZCMI Center where the Blimpie Sandwiches shop is located.

"I don't like to refer to it as a tunnel because it will be 16 feet wide with 12-foot ceilings," Money said. "It willhave the same interior finish as the mall," as well as bays for shops and the mall's security offices.

The actual excavation will be 43 feet wide, with the shop bays taking up the majority of that space. Those touches of the project make it attractive to city officials, who, as a rule, dislike tunnels and skywalks.

"It's not going to be a tunnel," said Doug Dansie, the city's community planner. "It will be like part of the ZCMI mall. It will be open only during mall hours."

He said the passage will connect the mall with the 965 parking spaces - most of which are located in multi-level plazas owned by Zions Securities - on Social Hall Avenue.

Some city officials are concerned the underground walkway will take people off the street and away from other businesses. However, Dansie said, it will only help people get to the mall, where they probably were going anyway.

The project's park expansion will also coincide with a sidewalk renovation program in the same area, as well as do away with the existing crosswalk. City officials said accidents and close calls between autos and pedestrians are an everyday occurrence at the mid-block crosswalk.

But the city is tempering its enthusiasm for the project with a warning that it still does not like tunnels.

"In some situations, they are OK," Dansie said. "In most situations, they're not. We really don't want a whole series of these all over town."

Park developments around the escalator entrance will require closing the State Street entrance into Social Hall Avenue, while access onto State Street will remain. A public hearing on that aspect of the project will be held March 19.

UDOT approval was necessary to gain permission to tunnel below power, water and telephone lines running up and down State Street. The state will also contribute $50,000 toward the project - what it would have cost to install a traffic signal at the existing crosswalk.

UDOT agrees the mid-block crosswalk is a safety hazard and that an underground passage is better than tying up traffic with a stoplight.

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Public hearing

Salt Lake City will hold a public hearing on the planned underground pedestrian walkway March 19 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 451 S. State, Room 315.