Initial reaction from community leaders to a formal federal request for funding to create and pave an alternate highway to Monticello on back roads has been positive.

The Moab City Council was the latest to endorse a Bureau of Land Management proposal to connect the Kane Springs Canyon road along the Colorado River, west of Moab, to a network of roads in the BLM Hatch Point Recreational Area on a plateau 11 miles away. The segment is also known as the Trough Springs Canyon Segment.The loop would be about 80 miles long and would include at least two proposed new campgrounds along its route.

The $7.4 million project was detailed in a report released this month by the Moab District BLM Office and submitted to the state BLM Office by district manager Gene Nodine.

Funding would require congressional approval and the project would take four years to complete, Nodine said in the report.

City Councilwoman Christine Robbins said the council considered the benefits to recreationists and sightseers from improved access to scenic vistas of Canyonlands National Park and voted to send Rep. Howard Nielson a letter of support for the project.

Councilman Bill McDougald said Mayor Tom Stocks presented a draft of the letter to council for approval Tuesday.

"I can't for the life of me see how this could meet any kind of resistance," McDougald said, citing endorsement this month by Grand County Commission chairman Jimmie Walker and earlier support from the district director of the Utah Department of Transportation, Dyke LeFevre.

Walker's letter pledged the County Commission's "whole-hearted support for the proposal as a high priority" in BLM funding requests for the current fiscal year.

The proposal is to build and pave 11 miles of road in the Trough Springs branch of Kane Creek Canyon to carry motorists up to the BLM recreational area, then pave another 18 miles of gravel road connecting with a 22-mile paved entrance road from state Highway 191.

Nodine said the loop would enhance visitor use and consequently the economies of Grand and San Juan counties. It would also allow better administration of "resource values" on public lands in the area, he said.

Currently, motorists travel 50 miles south of Moab or 70 miles north of Monticello on Highway 191 to enter the BLM recreational area, returning the same way. According to a three-year traffic count, about 35 vehicles enter the Hatch Point area daily.

Nodine estimated that the recreational area would see an immediate increase in traffic to 260 cars per day upon completion of the scenic route, and more than 400 per day by the year 2010.

He also estimated that the Kane Creek connection would cut travel time from Moab to the overlooks by two-thirds and provide a more scenic route to Monticello for recreation-oriented tourists.

Nodine said $41,200 is needed for the first phase of the road construction project. Actual construction the second year, with addition of a new campground in the Trough Springs section, would cost an estimated $3,581,100, according to the report.

Paving a 22-foot-wide road in the Trough Springs segment and some of the graveled road on the plateau would come the third year, with construction of a 20-unit campground and staking for eventual paving of the spur road leading to Canyonlands Overlook. Third-year costs are projected at slightly more than $3.1 million.

An additional $650,000 would be required during the final year for construction of the Canyonlands Overlook road and fencing at the site.