The opening bell has rung in the Legacy Highway fight.
Less than two weeks after the Utah Transportation Commission approved a specific alternative for the Legacy West Davis Highway (LWDH), the first major, organized voice of disapproval has surfaced.Stating their opposition to the building of Legacy Highway, a 120-mile thoroughfare from Nephi to Brigham City proposed by Gov. Mike Leavitt, members of the Sierra Club announced formal plans for an opposition campaign on Monday. Specifically, the $40,000 campaign will target the construction of the $284 million West Davis Highway, the initial 13-mile stretch of the Legacy project between North Salt Lake and Farmington.
"What we support are 21st century transportation solutions," said Nina Dougherty, the president of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We do not support the destruction of farmlands, wetlands and communities for the outdated daydream that we must continually build new highways to support a supposed right of everyone to drive by themselves."
Those 21st century solutions, Dougherty said, will alleviate the crowded commute that Davis County drivers experience every day. Such alternatives include a wide-spread mass transit system as well as city planning to more readily accommodate walkers and bicyclists.
"I lead a pedestrian-oriented lifestyle, and I rather enjoy it," Dougherty said.
The campaign will include four components:
- Radio ads, which began airing Monday.
- Signs on UTA flextrans buses, which have already been placed.
- Yard signs.
- Bumper stickers.
The group hopes to counter claims by Davis County leaders that the highway, as currently proposed, will halt possible additional development to the west because that area will be wetlands unsuitable for building.
"Building your way out of congestion doesn't work," Dougherty said. "The planners are not looking at the alternatives to building the road."
Backing the Sierra Club's efforts are a number of smaller environmental groups, bird clubs and farmers, said Marc Heileson, the program director for the Sierra Club's anti-highway campaign.
Heileson said the campaign will focus more on the loss of farmland and open space, in addition to the heavily discussed wetland issue.
"This highway will either go through the farmlands or force wetlands to be mitigated into the farmlands," Heileson said. "Either way, the farmers lose them." (See related story on this page.)
Organizers aim to educate residents about the benefits of mass transit systems such as buses or light rail. Current estimates by the Utah Department of Transportation say that only 10 percent of commuters would use mass transit. But those estimates are based on current, not future, behavior.
"If you build it, they will drive," said Lawson LeGate, the southwest regional representative for the Sierra Club.
The current phase of the campaign will last through the release of the environmental impact study (EIS), which UDOT plans to complete sometime this summer. The proposed route also has to gain approval of the Army Corps of Engineers, a decision that will follow the EIS.
Eventually, the opposition campaign may include coalition lawsuits and lobbying in Washington to protect the wetlands, which serve as a primary migratory destination for dozens of species of birds, LeGate said, although those efforts remain long-range and unclear.