In his 1998 State of the State address, then-Gov. Michael O. Leavitt urged construction of the Legacy Parkway. To illustrate his point, he told a story about a man named Frank Muir whose job was to log the traffic on a road north of Salt Lake. Muir's report for an April morning in 1915 said 102 automobiles passed between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. as did five saddle horses, five one-horse wagons headed north, 19 loaded wagons headed south and a total of 54 empty one-horse wagons heading north and south.
Imagine if Muir were at today's opening ceremonies for the $685 million Legacy Parkway. He'd see a scenic four-lane highway that allows no semitrailer travel. He'd see a rebuilt I-15. He'd also see FrontRunner commuter rail carrying passengers in and out of the city.
The history of the parkway would be lost on Muir. He wouldn't know that the project had been put on hold for five years pending litigation over environmental concerns. He'd be unaware of a settlement that includes a larger-than-planned 2,225-acre nature preserve and a 55 mph speed limit.
But he'd gather from the wide variety of interests represented at the grand opening among them Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle that the finished Legacy Parkway was a vastly improved project from its early conceptions. It provides a much-needed second corridor of motor vehicle access, yet the project enhanced wetlands. He might notice that the road intentionally curves to offer drivers and passenger better views of the scenery. It is the first parkway in Utah to be given a scenic byway designation before it was completed.
Just like the "commuters" Muir tabulated 93 years ago, the beauty of the Legacy Parkway is that it is part of a shared transportation solution. Yes, there is more capacity for car traffic but those drivers don't have to share the road with big trucks. For people who don't want to drive, they can travel by commuter rail or bus. The more robust Utahns can ride bikes or even horses along the trail that parallels the 14-mile stretch between Salt Lake and Farmington.
It would have been a marvel for Muir. For the rest of us, Legacy Parkway, 7 1/2 years in the making, is a welcome addition to the state's transportation options and an important lesson of how artful negotiation settled a lawsuit in 2005, resulting in a substantially improved project.