A proposal to spend more than $80 million to turn U.S. 89 through Davis County into a limited-access expressway is receiving mixed reviews.
The proposal came from a six-month study by a Salt Lake consulting firm and is in the final stages of hearings and approvals by Davis County's governmental bodies before being submitted to the Utah Department of Transportation.Members of the Wasatch Front Regional Council received a draft copy Thursday afternoon but took no action on it, tabling it until the group's April meeting when U.S. 89 and the I-15 transportation corridor through Salt Lake County will be discussed.
At a public hearing Thursday night in Layton, residents agreed something needs to be done to improve the highway's safety and accident record but opinions on what should be done differed sharply.
The study by Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas recommends the highway between Farmington and Harrison Boulevard in Ogden be made a limited-access expressway, with five or six major interchanges, an equal number of separated grade crossings, a frontage road system, and acceleration and deceleration lanes.
That proposal is endorsed over two others: installing traffic signals at major intersections every two miles, with a reduced speed limit; or turning the road into a freeway.
The limited-expressway proposal is cheaper than full freeway status, the study concludes, and would handle growing traffic volumes farther into the future than would installing signals.
But many of the residents attending Thursday night's hearing said they don't like the concept of a limited-access expressway. They applauded suggestions to cut the highway's speed limit and install traffic signals, reducing the road from a major commuter link between Salt Lake and Weber counties to an arterial thoroughfare serving the residential neighborhoods surrounding it.
Layton Mayor Richard McKenzie has frequently expressed reservations about the practicality and desirability of the study's recommendation.
Instead of improving the road to allow it to handle more traffic, McKenzie said, he wants to look at alternatives including making the highway less attractive to high-speed commuter traffic, which would be diverted to I-15.
And, the mayor said, his analysis of the 12 fatal accidents cited in the study indicates that making the highway into a limited-access expressway would not have prevented any of the accidents. Most were caused by human error or driver impairment, the mayor said.
The mayor also said 16 percent of the traffic accidents - just under one-fifth - are animal related, as when vehicles collide with deer, and the limited-expressway concept does not deal with that.
None of the estimated $80 million that would be needed for the improvements has been budgeted, either by UDOT or local cities, the mayor said, and the project is not on any priority list.
"The reality of the situation is this proposal at this time has no political advocacy," the mayor said. Spending priorities for highways in the state are set for years to come, he said, and the U.S. 89 project is not one of them.
But Scott Carter, Layton's economic development director, endorsed the expressway concept, saying growth in Layton and surrounding communities will double traffic volume on U.S. 89 in the next decade.
Traffic signals will only slow vehicles down, reducing the highway's capacity and increasing noise and air pollution, Carter said. And I-15 is approaching its capacity through Layton, especially near Hill Air Force Base, Carter said. Diverting more commuter traffic onto the freeway would require construction of additional lanes there, in addition to a light rail transportation system, he added.