A task force of engineers and planners from the Utah Department of Transportation has recommended four more freeway lanes, a North Temple interchange and a light-rail commuter train to cure future congestion along the I-15 corridor.
The task force recommendation, presented to the Utah Transportation Commission Friday, was one of several steps that must be taken before the commission and the Utah Transit Authority make a final decision by summer's end on how to improve highway and mass transit systems in the Salt Lake Valley.In making its recommendation, UDOT's I-15 task force selected Alternative 11 from a 450-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement of alternatives to improve traffic flow and public transportation along the I-15 corridor - a heavily traveled section of Salt Lake County bordered by Redwood Road, 700 East, 600 North and 12300 South, with I-15 running down the middle.
Alternative 11 calls for adding two lanes in each direction of I-15, then constructing a light-rail commuter train route within the existing Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way between Sandy and downtown Salt Lake City. An expanded bus system would feed the electrically powered train with passengers living east and west of the light-rail line.
As part of its recommendation, the UDOT task force advises decision-makers to allow one of the additional lanes in each direction to be converted to high occupancy vehicle lanes, dedicated to buses, vans and car pools, if necessary in the future.
UTA, although it hasn't formally announced its recommendations for transit improvements, strongly supports a light-rail proposal and most likely will bring Alternative 11 or something like it to the table when it meets with the commission.
UTA is anxious to reach a final decision, so it can take the particulars to federal transit authorities early next year and secure funding for the multimillion-dollar commuter train.
North Temple link unlikely
One task force recommendation that won't survive is a North Temple interchange on I-15. "In our professional opinion, the North Temple interchange provides the best technical solution to traffic demand in the area," a summary of the task force's position paper said.
Professional opinion notwithstanding, the transportation commission has already made a political decision not to build the interchange. Transportation officials shied away from the proposal last year after residents from the Avenues and Capitol Hill areas protested the increased traffic the interchange would bring to their neighborhoods.
The task force recommendation, however, states that the issue of handling the increased traffic an improved freeway would bring into downtown Salt Lake City remains to be addressed.
Funding sources not addressed
How highway improvements would be funded was not addressed. Apparently task force members didn't accept any of the funding sources suggested in the draft statement, such as state gasoline tax revenue. Members said existing sources must go to maintaining the state's existing roads, while a new source must be tapped to come up with the estimated $35 million to $60 million a year to expand and improve I-15.
According to the draft statement, Alternative 11 is the second most expensive highway improvement solution, costing $448 million. A second choice force would be Alternative 6 - an additional traffic lane and a high occupancy vehicle lane in each direction, and an expanded bus system without a light-rail system. But the cost would be $518 million because the high occupancy lanes described in the study are so expensive to build.
At its quickest pace, UDOT could finish its part of the I-15 improvements in nine years, the task force said.
It also recommended that the decision on a final preferred alternative recognize the need for improvements in east-west traffic flow in the valley.