Scores of Salt Lake residents sat in the hallway, crouched in corners and stood against the walls of the City Council chambers Wednesday night - eager to express their concerns about a proposed North Temple freeway interchange.
Most told the council that they strongly oppose the proposal; only a handful spoke in favor of the project."We want people in (downtown) Salt Lake City. We don't want their cars," Stan Penfold, one resident, told the council during the public hearing. Traffic patterns would change greatly in the Jackson, Euclid and Guadalupe neighborhoods, he said.
"We would create a serious conflict between pedestrians and autos if this is built," Penfold said.
Area resident Rosemarie Rendon told the council she and "little old ladies" in her neighborhood will stand in front of any bulldozers sent to construct the interchange should the project be approved.
"We feel like we've had enough," she said. "We're not going to put up with any more."
Perhaps the biggest surprise came from Wilford W. Kirton, general counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who said the LDS Church opposes the construction of the interchange.
Kirton said the church is concerned about Temple Square becoming the "center of traffic" as a result of easier access from a North Temple interchange.
City officials and engineers have researched several alternatives to help alleviate the problem of I-15 traffic congestion and to promote easier downtown access. Many of the alternatives involve some level of freeway expansion, such as the proposed interchange.
The state will make the final decision on the project, but city officials say the city's endorsement would greatly affect the decision.
Gerry Blair, a private consultant hired by the Wasatch Front Regional Council, said the North Temple interchange would help alleviate congestion at the Fifth and Sixth South freeway interchanges and make downtown access easier for motorists.
North Temple is the only alternative for an additional interchange, Blair said, because it is the only street that meets criteria of the Federal Highway Administration.
A committee formed to study the proposal and report to Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis was unable to reach a decision on the issue. The committee members split 50/50, and both sides presented their recommendations to the council.
"If we don't try to improve access to the Central Business District . . . , we will see more businesses leave downtown for the suburbs," said Bret Cunningham, who represented those on the committee in favor of the proposal.
Property value near the Triad Center would increase and traffic problems at the Sixth South interchange would be alleviated, he said.
William R. Littig, who represented the committee half that opposes the project, expressed concerns about the impact on schools and neighborhoods in the area. Increased traffic, he said, would decrease safety.
Another Salt Lake resident, Russ Jacobsen, reminded the council that some children are now crossing North Temple every day to attend Jackson Elementary School. "I feel for their safety if this interchange is put into effect," he said.
Wesley Sine, whose family owns businesses on North Temple near the freeway, said the lack of freeway access at North Temple has been a problem for several years, and strongly encouraged its construction. "I'd be very happy to sell the state part of my property if they'd like it. I feel that strongly about it."
Another North Temple business owner, Julie Connary, said the real issue is business dollars, taxes and jobs. "We need jobs for our kids and need to do something to prevent the deterioration of downtown Salt Lake."
Council Chairman Tom Godfrey said a decision will likely be reached after another public hearing in August or September, after an environmental impact study is completed. The community can still send letters or call City Council members with their opinions, he said.