Newly formed road commissions in Grand and Uintah counties have taken formal action toward establishing a road through the Book Cliff mountains as part of the state highway system.

The road districts announced plans last February to join forces on the proposal, the first major project for both. The proposal is to upgrade 103 miles of the route to standards that would qualify it for inclusion in the state highway system.Thom Wardell, Uintah district administrator, said the proposed road is identified as U.S. 191 in a study by the Utah Department of Transportation.

"Our feeling is that Uintah is an energy center, a service center, and this would give us a better link to energy in Farmington (N.M.) and Moab and Grand Junction (Colo.), where the energy is," Wardell said.

"Besides, we think it'd make a better tourist route from Flaming Gorge to Lake Powell, from the parks in the south to Dinosaur and Yellowstone, and also give us a better link to the railroad . . . by I-70 at Cisco."

Generally, the route will follow the Seep Ridge Road, a Uintah county road, out of Ouray and along the Book Cliffs Ridge, dropping down through Middle Canyon and ultimately connecting with either the east or west Cisco interchange on I-70.

The Grand district has yet to identify where the road would come out of the Book Cliffs at the south end.

Creamer & Noble Engineering, consultants on the Grand district project, noted that building a road through eight miles of Middle Canyon will be one of the greatest challenges of the project.

K. Reed Noble said the route at one point comes down sheer cliffs and mountains. "Just trying to find a road is going to be difficult," he said.

"We have a preliminary layout that we've done. There's nothing set right now," he said.

Grand district administrator Jimmie Walker said total cost of the project is estimated at up to $15 million.

"At this point, it looks like our 37 miles would cost approximately the same as Uintah County - about $6 million to bring it up to oil surfacing," Walker said.

The Uintah proposal involves 66 miles of roadwork, including some realignment, Wardell said.

A major road over the Book Cliffs has been on the mind of officials in both counties for about 20 years, he said. They began discussing possible ways to finance the road about four years ago.

"The road district monies gave us the opportunity to improve roads in mineral-impacted areas," Wardell said. "The state has indicated this road meets criteria for a state road, and if we bring it up to grade, they'll pave it. We've just been trying to find a way to finance it."

The road districts were formed over the past six months in response to state legislation that changed the way federal mineral-lease monies are distributed by the state.

Fifty percent of fees paid on mineral leases are returned to the state, and now counties that form special service districts receive a percentage of the mineral lease returns according to how much their given area is impacted by oil and gas exploration and other extraction activities.