Without doubt, the traffic funneling into downtown Salt Lake City from I-15 is rapidly approaching the limit of the freeway's capacity to handle it.
The chief interchange at 5th-6th South already is nearing "gridlock" during rush hours. But building a new interchange at North Temple has many drawbacks, and would not solve the problem in the long run.Erecting I-15 on and off ramps at North Temple clearly would pull considerable traffic away from the 6th South exit as well as the 6th North exit. But the very volume of that traffic is what worries residents in the northern end of the city.
Thousands of autos coming on or off I-15 would be making their way through residential streets, seeking alternate routes to what would become a very crowded North Temple street. Traffic on North Temple already is very difficult at rush hours.
In addition to the impact on residential neighborhoods, the traffic density would tend to solidify around Temple Square, turning streets around that lovely spot into a perpetual, noisy traffic jam.
There would be some advantages for motels and other businesses along North Temple that have suffered since the completed I-80 link caused much traffic to bypass them. But is that advantage worth the cost to everyone else?
This is not an easy question to resolve. A committee formed by the city to study the matter was evenly split over the issue.
The proposal, made as part of a transportation study by the Wasatch Front Regional Council, settled on North Temple as the site for an interchange partly because it is the only street in the area that meets the criteria of the Federal Highway Administration. All others interfere with I-80 or other interchanges.
Even if North Temple were made into an I-15 interchange, the help would be temporary. It would only be a matter of time until increasing traffic created the same problems that exist now at 6th South and 6th North. Then what?
Part of the long-range solution, and one also included in the Wasatch Front Regional Council study, is for some kind of light rail system. The UTA already is buying right of way for such a system, but it would be very expensive and probably require some kind of tax increase.
Even a light rail system might not entice enough people out of their cars to solve the traffic problem - at least not until the downtown logjam gets so severely congested that driving becomes all but impossible.
However, waiting until that happened might be the death of the downtown area.
Meanwhile, part of what's needed now is a stronger commitment to existing mass transportation by Salt Lake area residents in a determined effort to make the city more of a place for people rather than a place to park automobiles.