How many homes and businesses could be lost?
For many, the stretch of Interstate 15 through northern Salt Lake Counties and southern Davis Counties is a certainty. After all, government funds have been made available for the project and an environmental impact statement is to be published in the autumn.
So these people choose a seat at the table to shape the path instead of fighting.
Others, particularly those who may be displaced or affected by a major highway, will not fly a white flag. They keep fighting and aim to stop the project altogether.
Westsiders packed the Mestizo Coffeehouse on Wednesday to speak with Utah Department of Transportation officials about plans for a wider I-15 stretching from Shepard Lane in Farmington to 400 South in Salt Lake City. Many also gathered at NeighborWorks headquarters on Tuesday to discuss what the west side of the capital would lose from construction work.
“We’re all against it. We don’t need it. We don’t think the city needs it, and this neighborhood certainly doesn’t,” said Lucy Cardenas, owner of popular restaurant Red Iguana. “It doesn’t have to go through something like this. It’s been through enough already.”
Cardenas wishes the state would be more creative in its approach to growth, including more walkability and public transportation.
Above all, she worries about what the construction of a freeway would mean for already scarce companies on the west side and others in and around the project area.
“When there’s construction going on and people have to be rerouted, people just don’t go there,” she said. “You’ll just forget about the place.”
UDOT has published a report of all the comments the public has made as part of their community engagement process. The agency also answered frequently asked questions.
At this stage of the study, for most areas along the corridors — such as Salt Lake City, Bountiful, West Bountiful, and Farmington — UDOT prefers Option A, which would include five general-purpose lanes, one fast lane, and one minor lane in designated areas in each direction.
Centerville, North Salt Lake and Wood Cross would most likely receive Option B, which is similar except that the Central Express lanes could be reversed to accommodate morning and evening traffic needs.
How many properties could be affected?
Property acquisitions are uncertain at this time, but the general assumption is that the project would involve 24 residential properties in Salt Lake City, as well as three commercial properties and one historic building.
In the North Salt Lake and Wood Cross area, work could force the relocation of ten residential buildings and three commercial buildings. Three historic buildings and the Wood Cross High School playing fields could also be affected.
In Bountiful and West Bountiful, roadworks could affect three residential and 20 commercial buildings, as well as a historic building and the Wood Cross Elementary School campus.
Playing fields as well as three residential properties and two historic buildings could be affected at Farmington, South Park, Ezra Clark Park and Farmington Junior High.
“In the screening report, we performed a comprehensive analysis of what impact we could expect based on the overall plans,” said UDOT Project Manager Tiffany Pocock. “But we still need to do some more refinement and data analysis before then [environmental impact statement] Draft.”
While a no-build option continues to be considered pending the completion of the study, UDOT officials said during outreach meetings that they had not heard of a project being canceled due to community opposition. However, they added that they were aware of many drafts that had been changed after receiving the feedback.
Negotiate instead of fighting
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, preferring a seat at the negotiating table, said UDOT is interested in public input to find a path that is more responsive to community desires.
“My request to UDOT was not to do away with homes, but to look for alternatives and ways to provide better access where the highway has been a barrier for decades,” she said. “And to look for ways to create good spaces, positive spaces, and not just more freeways with chain link embankments on the sides.”
Community members should lead the conversation, she said, and UDOT should adjust its plans accordingly.
“It’s natural that people don’t want expansion, and fundamentally – or should I be saying it philosophically – I believe those dollars should be better invested in improving the public transit system,” she said. “But I believe this will happen, just as lawmakers have directed UDOT to do with funding.”
Although the project seems like a done deal, grassroots groups have formed coalitions to lobby to halt the expansion.
“It’s just not necessary,” said Billy Palmer of Glendale, transportation officer for the Westside Coalition. “Incentivizing more people to drive down the highway, which is already a pretty expensive highway, only creates an incentive for more cars to come.”
He warned that the project — along with refineries and mining operations — could contribute to Salt Lake City’s air pollution. He advocates better local transport that gives people an incentive to live close to their place of work.
As the EIS blueprint release draws near, neighbors remain vigilant.
“One of the first things we want to do is understand what [UDOT planners] “What they are actually committed to versus what they propose to be committed to because it’s really hard to get a straight answer when you’re talking about big projects like this,” Palmer said. “And we don’t get many clear answers.”
Taking the subway across the Autobahn?
UDOT has dwarfed at least one idea: burying I-15 in Salt Lake City.
“The tunnel options would require the relocation of 180 to 1,270 more residential households,” says UDOT’s website, “more than the estimated 24 potential residential relocations” for that section of the highway.
The UDOT team reiterated that the expansion would be part of a comprehensive plan that would include road, transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects to meet travel needs in 2050.
“A pure transit alternative does not fulfill the project purpose.” It says on the website. “In addition to mobility/capacity requirements, I-15 requirements also include addressing aging infrastructure, improving access, and providing safer facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America Corps member and writes for The Salt Lake Tribune on the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Her donation to complement our RFA grant helps ensure she continues to write stories like this. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking Here.