Grass-roots efforts to influence highway construction through Provo Canyon may bear fruit after all, as indicated by a Utah Department of Transportation decision to spend $1.6 million revegetating the canyon's first 1.4 miles and developing a park near the canyon's mouth.
The decision came Friday during a Utah Transportation Commission meeting in Salt Lake City, in which the commission approved a $1.1 million revegetation plan developed by a landscape architectural firm hired last fall.In addition to providing money for revegetation, UDOT has agreed to provide another half-million dollars to develop a nature park near Murdock Diversion Dam, close to the canyon's mouth. The park, proposed by the Provo Canyon Parkway Committee, would be a small experimental demonstration park serving as a gateway to Provo Canyon.
Cost of revegetation, from the canyon's mouth to Murdock Diversion Dam, represents about 31 percent of total highway construction costs in the area.
Officials also voiced support for a proposed pathway through the canyon for hikers, pedestrians and bicyclists. That support signals an apparent change of heart by UDOT. Utah County officials have agreed to maintain the pathway if UDOT funds its construction.
"Up to this point in time that had not been (UDOT's) position" regarding the pathway, said Dan Dake, Utah division administrator with the Federal Highway Administration. "There was a change in their position, yes."
Dake said the highway administration hasn't pressured UDOT to consider funding the pathway. "We said simply that the issue had to be addressed. They knew that. And they weren't going to proceed without taking care of that problem."
Members of the parkway committee, made up of local citizens concerned about development in the canyon, have repeatedly stressed the safety issue of keeping pedestrians and bicyclists off the highway by providing them a separate pathway.
"We've been skeptical they would listen," said County Commissioner Gary Anderson, committee co-chairman. "We think this is a good-faith effort on the part of UDOT to make the canyon not only safe, but to preserve it as well. I couldn't be happier."
Anderson attributed UDOT's apparent growing consideration for local concerns to a consensus reached by county residents and government officials regarding canyon development.
"We were just elated with the change of heart they had," said Jim Young, Utah County Travel Council director. "Their whole attitude was very positive."
UDOT officials also are backing off a proposal to build a bridge below Deer Creek Dam that would require a substantial fill in the canyon bottom. A spanning bridge is being considered as an alternative.
Utah Transportation Commission Vice Chairman Wayne Winters said UDOT is "receptive" to developing a pathway. "But some decisions have to be made before anything can be set in stone," he said.
During a public hearing earlier this month, parkway committee members presented a modified multiuse proposal they hope will be used in improving U.S. 189 through Provo Canyon. Winters said UDOT is receptive to the proposal, which is a modified version of one of four development alternatives listed in a draft environmental impact statement commissioned by UDOT.
Winters said UDOT has to choose a recommendation for highway development before a final decision is made regarding pathway funding. Only then, he said, will officials determine whether the pathway becomes part of the project's design phase.
"We can't say we have agreed to fund it (the pathway), because we haven't agreed on an alternative yet. But we have agreed that the concept is a good concept and that we would work toward that end if at all possible," Winters said.
Winters added that UDOT shares local concerns that pedestrians, hikers and bicyclists be provided with safe passage through the canyon. "We think the Parkway Canyon Committee has done an excellent job of evaluating needs in the canyon. I think we can develop a design that will be acceptable to most folks concerned about the canyon."
Dake predicted further compromise by both UDOT and the parkway committee. But he also predicted the end result will please most people.
He said federal aid primary funds will be used to fund much of the improvements. But because Utah gets only $20 million in such funds yearly, Dake said, UDOT faces a "tough decision" spending so much in Provo Canyon. "They have a lot more needs that just Provo Canyon."