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The proposed extension of Bountiful Boulevard into Salt Lake City is a step closer to reality.

The state Department of Transportation said this week it plans to hire a consultant to study the politically charged idea. Specifically, UDOT hopes to know by next March if the road can be extended, where the best link would be and how much it would cost.State Senate President Lane Beattie is confident one route or another will work.

"We are bringing it into Salt Lake somewhere . . . whether it's on Beck Street or whether we go somewhere else, it's going to be a viable addition to the overall road system," said Beattie, who pushed a motion through last year's Legislature requiring the study.

For years, local government leaders in Davis County have talked about connecting the east-bench road onto Beck Street as a way to provide quick access to downtown while taking traffic off I-15.

Negotiations bogged down last summer over a disagreement about who should push the idea, since it faced opposition from Salt Lake City and Capitol Hill residents.

Bountiful officials said they couldn't do any more without the state's help. And UDOT argued Bountiful needed to build more of a coalition before the department got involved.

Enter Beattie, then the Senate majority leader. His motion put the hot potato in UDOT hands.

The department now has settled on studying three specific options for the extension and will pay an engineering firm $50,000 to provide answers. (See accompanying map.)

"It's going to be a technical study. We need to know things like curvature and grades," said Gary Kuhl, an urban planning engineer for the department.

He said the extension wouldn't lighten traffic flow on I-15 if the road is posted less than 40 mph.

"If it's 40 mph or more, then it definitely could take cars off I-15 - but that depends a lot on curvature and grades," he said.

Salt Lake City and residents of the Capitol Hill area fear the extension would dump heavy traffic onto their neighborhood streets.

House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli has represented their concerns.

"I and respectable members of the community would chain ourselves to bulldozers before that sorry proposal becomes reality," he said last November before the Beattie motion.

Pignanelli amended the motion in March with language intended to protect neighborhoods. His position hasn't changed since the vote.

Beattie and Bountiful Mayor John Cushing insist the opposing factions can compromise. However, there's no basis for the compromise if the plan hurts Salt Lake neighborhoods, said Councilman Sam Souvall.