Can interstate trucks be banned from Provo Canyon?

Well, maybe.The state may be able to ban interstate truck traffic from U.S. 189 through Provo Canyon if it can show the traffic presents a substantial safety or health hazard and that rerouting them will not create an undue burden on truckers, according to Attorney General Paul Van Dam.

After receiving Van Dam's opinion on banning truck traffic Wednesday, Gov. Norm Bangerter asked the directors of the Department of Transportation and the state Division of Environmental Health to begin studies on whether a "good argument" could be made for a ban based on either safety or environmental concerns, spokeswoman Francine Giani said.

"Certainly if a case could be made I think the governor has shown a willingness to pursue this issue," Giani said.

Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Kim Morris said Van Dam's opinion contains no surprises.

"It puts us right where the (Transportation) Commission has been for a year," Morris said. "If it can be proven or shown it is a safety hazard, then trucks can be banned or if is part of a (state implementation plan) they can be prohibited. It (the opinion) doesn't necessarily help define it any more.

"The commission has never been opposed to banning trucks from the canyon. They just need legitimate justification for making such a decision."

Van Dam's opinion addresses three questions Bangerter raised in February regarding a ban on truck traffic in the canyon. Van Dam provided the most definitive answer to whether the state Transportation Commission can restrict truck traffic when a highway is under construction.

The answer, Van Dam concluded, is yes.

The Transportation Commission has already indicated it will "encourage rerouting" truck traffic during the second phase of construction in Provo Canyon, scheduled to begin this spring, according to Morris.

The bulk of a 21-page letter answered the governor's other two questions: whether the Transportation Commission has the authority to restrict truck traffic in Provo Canyon and whether it is constitutional to restrict truck traffic based on destination.

Basically, Van Dam concluded, the answer to both questions is yes.

"There is no specific statutory authority to close this or any other road but under inherent state police power, this particular road, because of its description (Highway 189 is not part of the National Network of highways) could be closed," Van Dam said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

His opinion says, "Under the broad general authority given the department (of transportation) and the commission it seems that the department and/or the commission could restrict truck travel on designated portions of the state road system if the regulation is `reasonable' and `necessary to provide for the safety' or even to prevent `undue use of the systems.'

He said that if a condition on a state highway posed a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the traveling public, it appears the department or commission has authority to "act reasonably to protect motorists and other persons."

The state could make an exception for local truck traffic in the ban provided the exception was "well-defined and consistently enforced," Van Dam told the Deseret News.

Julie Mack, co-chairman of the Utah County Clean Air Coalition and a member of a group of Utah County residents who have asked Bangerter to pursue the truck ban, said Wednesday she is "looking forward to the studies and hope they get done soon.

"Members of the community feel both problems are legitimate and have stated they don't want trucks traveling in their back yards," Mack said. "I think UDOT needs to respond to their requests. I don't know of other communities that have truck traffic traveling down through their streets. It's just not acceptable.`"