City and state officials will ask the Environmental Protection Agency to approve a delay in implementing one step of a plan intended to lower carbon monoxide pollution levels in downtown Provo.
Mayor Joe Jenkins and Utah Department of Transportation officials want EPA permission to delay the installation of a traffic signal interconnection system on University Avenue until next year a move they say would save Provo and UDOT between $70,000 and $140,000 while not harming air quality.The city and UDOT are caught in a dilemma. Provo faces a Sept. 1 EPA deadline to meet all requirements of a state plan to bring downtown Provo into compliance with federal air quality standards for acceptable levels of carbon monoxide pollution.
The state plan, which has been approved by the EPA, calls for Provo and Utah County to complete four steps to reduce auto exhaust emissions, including:
Conduct an auto emissions inspection program.
Reroute traffic to reduce the number of vehicles traveling University Avenue, which is also U.S. Highway 189.
Raise speed limits on downtown streets.
Synchronize downtown traffic signals to cut the time vehicles spend waiting at stop lights.
The first three steps will have been completed by the deadline. But officials want to wait until next spring to install the computerized interconnection system to synchronize signals on University Avenue, because UDOT plans to begin rebuilding a downtown segment of the street then.
If the city is forced to install the system before the deadline, then tear it out for street reconstruction next spring and install it a second time, it would cost Provo and UDOT an additional $70,000 to $140,000, officials say.
The city and UDOT say if installation can wait until spring, the department will pick up some of the installation costs under its street reconstruction contracts. If the system must go in this summer, Provo will have to foot the whole $75,000 installation bill.
But then UDOT would have to pay the entire cost of tearing out the system and re-installing it next year when University Avenue is rebuilt.
"We certainly are sensitive to air quality concerns and we want to comply with the federal standards, but we don't think we should have to install the system twice in less than a year," Jenkins said. "We feel that's not a reasonable use of government assets."
Jenkins and Dan Nelson, UDOT District 6 director, hope that by showing the city has done everything else possible to fulfill the compliance plan, EPA regulators will allow Provo to wait until next spring to install the interconnection system.
Homer Chandler, director of the Mountainland Association of Governments which often acts as a intermediary between local governments and federal agencies says Provo and UDOT have a shot at winning the delay.
"I think if they can demonstrate that there has been progress and a good-faith effort to do everything that can be done to reduce carbon monoxide levels, then they can expect a fair hearing from EPA," Chandler said. "I think it's worth their effort to make the inquiry."
Jenkins said he'll ask that the city be given credit for its efforts that were not mandated under the state program, including raising speed limits other than those required and widening some streets.
"I'm hoping that with all we've done, and the fact that the designs and the money are ready to go, that they'll let us wait until spring," he said.