After more than 10 years of discussion about how to get traffic from I-15 into downtown Salt Lake City, the end of the road finally may be at hand.
The Salt Lake City Council voted Tuesday to recommend to the Utah Department of Transportation that it place new freeway access ramps on 400 South. The council also voted to not accept high-occupancy-vehicle lanes at either 200 South or 400 South for traffic to and from the north.The option selected by the council, Option K, leaves open the possibility that high-occupancy-vehicle lanes - used for vehicles carrying at least two people - may be located at some point between 600 North and North Temple. But the council wants UDOT to defer a decision on where to place the ramps until car pool lanes are justified by need.
The council attached several conditions on its support for Option K.
- It wants a light rail transit system in place and working before UDOT begins revamping I-15. If light rail is dropped from consideration, the council will revoke its support for any transportation improvements.
- Once a light rail system is in place, the city wants UDOT to begin work immediately on a light rail system running from the central business district to the University of Utah.
- If feasible, the city wants UDOT to consolidate railroad lines west of downtown and then short-en the freeway viaducts. That will save money and improve the aesthetics of the city, the council said.
The council also said that as part of a citywide transportation master plan currently under way, it will design ways to mitigate the impact of commuter traffic on residential neighborhoods.
Councilman Stuart Reid said discussions about I-15 have been a "never-ending process" and that it was unfortunate the council and residents have had to endure the same discussions for years.
"I'd like UDOT to hear, finally hear, what the public has said and will be voted on tonight and stop returning this decision for public hearing after public hearing," Reid said.
Councilman Alan Hardman said "the tragedy of all this is that to accommodate commuter traffic in this city we have pitted neighborhoods against one another."
Hardman said he was not happy about the prospect of another freeway access dumping traffic into his district. But he said he could live with the decision after being assured car pool and bus lane accesses will go elsewhere and that the city will do everything it can to mitigate the effects of more traffic in his area.
The Transportation Commission will take its own action accepting or amending the proposed option in January. Dave French of Parsons Brinkerhoff, a consulting firm working on the project, said UDOT is likely to adopt the city's recommendations. However, he said a decision on HOV lanes will have to be made within a year.
The council reached its decision after an hourlong public hearing that yielded at least one surprise.
Representatives of the Poplar Grove Community Council, which began operating in July, spoke against Option K, which they said "creates the worst impact on a single neighborhood."
The option, which UDOT estimates will cost $13.3 million to build, will require taking out 29 existing properties, including 16 homes and six apartment units.
"Our neighborhood has already been chopped up and divided by the freeway," said Barbara Dur-rant.
Durrant and other members of the Poplar Grove Community Council said 400 South is the area's main route into town and said they feared their access to town will be hampered by the proposed new free-way access.
Councilman Paul Hutchinson, who represents the area, had said in the past his constituents supported the option.
"The opposition of Poplar Grove is a complete surprise to me," Hutchinson said. "I had thought that Poplar Grove was solidly behind Option K with the exception that the housing units lost be mitigated properly. I was very complacent and very happy with Option K."
In deference to his constituents, Hutchinson cast the lone "no" vote on the option.
But most of those who addressed the council during the public hearing, including state legislators Frank Pignanelli, Pete Suazo and Rex Black, favored Option K.