Utah Transportation Commission officials say there's no way to speed up preparations for improvements to Provo Canyon highway (U.S. 189), but Utah County commissioners feel better all the time about the planned improvements.

According to the Utah Department of Transportation, it's going to be another year before new work begins on a 22-mile stretch of U.S. 189 from the mouth of Provo Canyon to U.S. 40, south of Heber.The consulting firm of Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendorff is working with county officials and citizens committees to develop a final version of a supplemental environmental impact statement that will govern highway improvements.

"They're giving us what we were asking for in our preliminary design," said Commissioner Gary Anderson. "I stand all amazed."

Provo Canyon Parkway Committee member Sammye Meadows said the consulting firm has been receptive to committee suggestions centering on environmental and recreational concerns. She said the firm's preliminary outline is "perfectly acceptable."

As part of the impact statement, the consulting firm next year will present a recommended road design to the Utah Transportation Commission and the Federal Highway Administration. Four design alternatives have been under consideration for the past year.

Wayne Winters, transportation commission vice chairman, said a final design has yet to be selected. The consulting firm, however, has been meeting with committees and county commissioners to fine tune what has been called the modified multiuse alternative.

The multiuse alternative is a four-lane divided highway designed for 50 mph traffic. The alignment closely follows the existing highway. Cost is approximately $90 million.

Winters said citizens groups will have continued opportunities to provide the firm with input. The next meeting of all groups and committees involved in highway improvements has been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 5.

Anderson said he hopes the final impact statement design includes a path through the canyon for hikers and bikers. Officials want the path kept away from the highway for safety.

Firm officials say they need another seven months to prepare the final version of the impact statement, which then will be reviewed by UDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. Five more months will be needed to finalize the highway design.

"We're really pleased. What it is, is what we've been asking for," Anderson said. "It's nothing short of a political miracle that we're at this point. I am absolutely amazed."

The only thing that would make the commission happier, Anderson said, is to have work on the road begin earlier. He said commissioners have taken flak over what many people believe to be delay tactics by state officials.

"There's not a thing we can do about it," Transportation Commission Chairman Sam Taylor told commissioners during a recent meeting. "We're looking at 13 months before we can possibly go to construction. That's as optimistic a schedule as we could put together."

Added Winters, "The best thing to be done is for all of us to be patient."

A $1.6 million landscaping project, however, will begin next spring along 1.4 miles of the highway at the mouth of Provo Canyon.

Meanwhile, work continues on some projects begun about two years ago. After opponents took the matter to court, a judge authorized completion of those projects but said no new work could be started until the supplemental environmental impact statement was completed.

Winters said he hopes highway officials will be able to avoid litigation once final highway plans are approved. But despite the receptiveness of state officials to public input, he predicted some people will be unhappy with the final design.