The gathering was dubbed a public hearing on the design of four miles of Provo Canyon Highway between Murdock Diversion Dam and Upper Falls, but it seemed more like a love fest.

Monday night's hearing at Orem High School was nothing like previous public meetings on Provo Canyon so often punctuated with hostility, raised voices and public castigation of the Utah Department of Transportation. After 20 years of haggling, people are getting a highway they can live with.About the only thing the public complained about at the hearing is that it will be 1992 before the highway to Upper Falls is widened to four lanes.

UDOT District 6 Director Dan Nelson, not used to having his department praised at hearings on Provo Canyon, welcomed the comments just the same.

"We're very pleased with the comments we're hearing from the public tonight," he said. "This should set the stage for what we would like to see going up the canyon. I think the public is ready for the project."

In light of ongoing meetings between engineering consultants and a citizens design advisory committee to hammer out highway design and realignment, Nelson said, he anticipated public approval. He applauded the consulting firm of De Leuw, Cather & Co., which teamed with ARIX Corp. to design the 4-mile stretch reviewed Monday.

"De Leuw, Cather went the extra mile - not just to placate the public, but to incorporate their ideas and to compromise without compromising safety," Nelson said.

A supplemental environmental impact statement governing the highway's expansion calls for development of a "modified multiuse" design featuring a four-lane divided highway to accommodate 50-mph traffic on a 22-stretch of highway between Provo Canyon and Heber. The design calls for acceleration and deceleration lanes and four 12-foot lanes, 8-foot shoulders and a 10-foot vegetated median.

Sam Taylor, Utah Transportation Commission chairman, said construction scheduled to begin early next year, should be completed by summer 1992.

"We have studied the road long enough. It's time to build the road," said Provo resident Tom Giles.

Members of the citizens committee praised Dale McCall, senior civil engineer with De Leuw, Cather, and said the final design represents an "outstanding compromise" between environmental and safety concerns.

Harold Carter, representing about 70 Vivian Park families, said the highway expansion is long overdue.

Coy Porter, a Provo City paramedic, said half the 36 traffic fatalities occurring on the highway over the past 10 years occurred on the 4-mile stretch discussed Monday. He projected three more fatalities in the area before the stretch is completed.

"We're excited about this project. We just wish it were here now, not two years down the road."