The Utah Transportation Commission was expected Friday to recommend a multiuse development alternative for Provo Canyon Highway - a day after transportation officials met with Utah County political leaders and concerned citizens to review recommendations.
The selection of a development alternative means construction of a safer highway through the canyon will at last become a reality. With the exception of limited work on the highway next spring near the canyon's mouth, however, major highway improvements likely won't begin until 1990.The multiuse alternative, which has been fine-tuned since public hearings in August, calls for a four-lane divided highway designed for 50-mph traffic. Its alignment would closely follow the existing highway and cost approximately $90 million.
The multiuse alternative is one of four development options proposed for a 22-mile stretch of U.S. 189 from the mouth of Provo Canyon to U.S. 40, south of Heber. The alternative also calls for landscaped medians and concurrent development of a recreational-use pathway with the highway.
The multiuse alternative will be part of a final supplemental environmental impact statement that will govern future highway development through Provo Canyon.
"I think we're coming close to something that truly will work in the canyon," said Dan Nelson, Utah Department of Transportation District 6 director.
The chosen alternative addresses both safety and environmental concerns, added Doug Myhre of Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff consulting firm.
"The key is to minimize the amount of cuts, to minimize the amount of fills and preserve as much existing vegetation as possible," he said of development plans.
Utah County Commissioner Gary Anderson said he was pleased to see state officials respond to concerns expressed during and since last summer's public hearings. But he and members of the Provo Canyon Parkway Committee asked for assurance the recreation pathway would be built the entire length of the canyon in order to keep bikers and hikers off the highway.
"We feel real strongly about that," Anderson said.
Construction of the path from the canyon's mouth to Vivian Park will pose no problem, but officials face design problems beyond the park because the path would have to somehow skirt the Heber Creeper railroad tracks.
The state owns the right of way under the tracks and could build the path where the tracks lie if the Heber Creeper were to close down. But Creeper owner Lowe Ashton recently signed a 20-year lease with the state for the easement and said he has no plans to shut down the railroad.
"By the time we get to Vivian Park (with construction), that issue may be resolved," said Wayne Winters, Transportation Commission vice chairman. "We're anxious to see that path up through there."
Winters said major construction cannot begin until the final supplemental environmental impact statement is published next June. The document then will have to be reviewed and approved in Washington. In addition, final highway design plans are still about a year from being completed.
"If we could be in there this spring, we'd be tickled to do it," Winters said. But he said efforts to speed up the development process often slow things down because of oversights.
Officials said litigation would be the only thing that could slow the project down.