North Temple is undergoing an economic metamorphosis, the outcome of which will ultimately be determined by the decision to build or not build an I-15 interchange on the street.

Neighborhood activists say the business district is evolving into a residential area where businesses are supported by residents of one of the city's fastest-growing areas.But some businessmen say North Temple is a major source of tourist traffic and dollars that once supported the area until a stretch of a major freeway opened nearby.

In 1986, the Utah Department of Transportation opened I-80 between 40th West and Redwood Road, funneling eastbound interstate traffic that once filled west North Temple onto I-15 where drivers sped past the city's economically depressed west side.

For businessman Wesley Sine, the new freeway marked the loss of $200,000 yearly for his Se Rancho Motor Hotel, 640 W. North Temple, a loss that he says could be redeemed by the new interchange just blocks from his hotel.

For residents living near North Temple, like Carleen Jimenez of the Jackson-Guadalupe neighborhood, I-80 re-routed busy traffic away from their neighborhoods that would return with a new on-off ramp.

The proposed interchange, designed as one of several alternatives to relieve the congested I-15 corridor, could be the operative factor in determining North Temple's future.

A study commissioned by UDOT, the multigovernment Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Utah Transit Authority found westbound traffic on North Temple would increase from a peak of 3,150 cars per hour to a peak of 5,850 cars per hour if the interchange is constructed.

The traffic would be an obvious boon to businesses in the area, but residents speaking at an August public hearing before the City Council expressed concern the increased traffic would disrupt their neighborhoods.

The council will vote next year on whether to support the interchange. UDOT officials have said they will consider the city's recommendation, but UDOT has ultimate authority over the project.

Councilwoman Florence Bittner, who represents the city's northwest district, which would be affected by the interchange, said she is caught in a middle lane on the issue and no matter which way she turns, she gets in a fender-bender.

"I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't," she said, lamenting pressure she feels from businesses supporting the interchange and residents opposing it.

She is sympathetic to businesses, citing 15 businessmen, some of whom are in bankruptcy, who told her they need an interchange to survive tough economic times. Those businesses dependent upon tourist traffic are particularly suffering, she said.

"The businesses that depend primarily on residential traffic are doing all right. It's the businesses getting their income from the tourist industry that are really hurting," she said.

Sine belongs to the latter category, having a hotel that caters to eastbound traffic that rumbled past before I-80 opened. So is Tim Johnson, president of the North Temple Merchants Association and manager of Days Inn Hotel, 1900 W. North Temple.

"The businesses here really have suffered heavily after I-80 opened," Johnson said, pointing to a 10-15 percent drop in traffic through his doors every year since I-80 opened.

While hotels that cater largely to tourist traffic languish, other businesses, like gas stations and automobile parts stores that serve residents flourish on North Temple, Bittner said.

Some neighborhood residents would like to see those businesses become the economic bulwark for the North Temple area.

"I think (North Temple) caters to the local traffic and we would like to see it transition over to that," said Jimenez, a member of the Neighborhood Transportation Alliance, a group opposing the interchange.

Bittner sees expected growth pushing the area's population to 60,000 as necessitating another I-15 exit, other than those already at Sixth North and on I-215 at Seventh North.

Business owners and residents alike point to temporary solutions to the lack of traffic pouring dollars into businesses on North Temple. Signs promoting I-80's North Temple exits as an eastbound threshold to the city would designate the street as a "tourist" avenue.

Now, two I-80 signs direct motorists to "No Temple," hardly an appropriate signal to drivers, said Stan Penfold, chairman of the Neighborhood Transportation Committee.

"No Temple - it's been joked about; it means you can't get to the Temple,' Penfold said, pointing out that North Temple - without an interchange - could be billed as the premier route to the LDS Temple.

Sine and Johnson have also observed that the times UDOT has increased signs on I-80 for their street, they have seen corresponding increases in business.

UDOT spokesman Kim Morris admits the statewide sign policy merits some review.

"But we don't think we're doing the public a favor by diverting them to a less efficient route," Morris said, adding that the opening of I-80 was common knowledge for some time before some businesses located on North Temple.

"When you locate in an area and you know there's going to be a road, you have to look at the impact in the future," he said.

Business owners say better signs will not be the salvation for the area. They need the interchange or there will be, as Johnson said, an "inevitable decline" in the region.

"And it's going to spread and North Temple is going to be a dump," he said.