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W.V. RESIDENTS QUESTION NEED FOR NEW HIGHWAY

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For living in one of the fastest growing cities along the Wasatch Front, David Rinker has the quiet surroundings of rural southern Utah.

"It's beautiful," he says of the expanse of undeveloped land stretching from his back yard. "The kids wander back there in the trees to play in the irrigation ditch. It's like a farm. The nearest neighbor (to the west) is 150 feet back from my fence."But in about two years Rinker, who lives at 4430 S. Orleans Way (3760 West), won't be boasting about the quietude of his home as he and his neighbor will be separated by the six-lane West Valley Highway.

Not surprisingly, Rinker is upset. And he's not alone. More than 300 residents attended public hearings sponsored by the Utah Department of Transportation this past week on the stretch between 2100 and 5400 South.

Most of the complaints centered on the noise and safety hazard the highway would cause. While the two lone comments that drew the biggest cheers focused on whether a city with traffic jams on east-west routes really needs a major roadway heading north-south.

Granted, the highway shouldn't come as any big surprise because it has been planned for 30 years. But it was the delay in building the project that apparently gave residents bordering the highway's right-of-way a cynical attitude about it ever coming to pass.

"When I told people about the public hearings, one guy told me not to get excited until 2005," Rinker said, noting he was told when he bought his house 12 years ago that the right of way was to protect the irrigation ditches that criss-cross it.

But Rinker's worried now, particularly over the noise the highway will cause.

He voiced his concerns to a panel of engineers and UDOT planners, who explained that noise abatement will be a major part of the project. Under federal rules, if highway noise reaches 67 decibels - making it difficult for two neighbors to hear each other as they chat over the fence - efforts are made to decrease the noise - but not eliminate it.

The latest sound abatement technology is 8- to-16-foot concrete walls towering over the highway and back yards to keep decibels in the low 60s. Sound walls will border most of the highway except at intersections and commercial areas.

Rinker also wanted assurances that if the project goes over-budget, the sound walls won't be sacrificed. And engineers promised him that won't be the case.

And thanks to the public hearings, another area of concern that transportation officials will address is safety crossings. The only east-west access to the expressway will be at major intersections. But residents want additional pedestrian crossings.

"The commission will look strongly at pedestrian crossovers," said UDOT spokesman Kim Morris. He explained that an elevated crosswalk costs around $250,000, but one catch is that UDOT policy requires local parties such as municipal government and school districts to pay half the cost.

But all the hoopla over safety and noise may be moot if residents' prediction of no one using the $60 million highway pans out.

"The problem is east-west access not north-south. We already have I-215 for that," said one resident, echoing the concerns of others fearing the same agency that brought taxpayers Syn-crete is embarking on another boondoggle.

But UDOT, while agreeing the highway is needed, passes responsibility for its planning to the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

I-215 does serve the north-south transportation needs of west Salt Lake Valley, explains council transportation engineer Doug Hattery, but it won't for long.

Hattery compares the highway with the Van Winkle Expressway and 700 East but with fewer intersections and traffic lights.

He also classified it as the top priority transportation need in the Salt Lake Valley, which is why the state took on the project 18 months ago after it became apparent Salt Lake County couldn't finish it.

The existing and environmentally approved plans take the highway to 9000 South. Morris said planners are uncertain where it will go from there.