The Salt Lake County Commission has made its most decisive move yet on where a much-needed new jail might go.

The location of preference for the 1,200-bed facility: a 30-acre parcel of land in an industrial neighborhood just outside the South Salt Lake city limits at 825 W. 3300 South.The three-man commission Wednesday night announced it is exercising an option to buy the property, perhaps ending hope by many who wanted the county to instead expand its overcrowded facilities in downtown Salt Lake City.

"It's well buffered," said Commissioner Randy Horiuchi of the proposed site, bracing himself for the public outcry that typically accompanies jail-location announcements. "It's surrounded by auto-wrecking yards, tailings and the (Jordan) river."

Sheriff Aaron Kennard, though he has previously said he prefers the jail remain downtown, said he supports the commission if only to see the project gets done.

While office-holders have argued at length over where to put it, said Kennard, "in the meantime we haven't got our jail built."

The county's current facility - opened in 1966 as part of a the justice center complex east of the Salt Lake City-County Building - is perennially overcrowded. Designed originally to hold 250 inmates, its population in recent years has averaged about 600.

Kennard noted that criminals and suspected criminals routinely go free today because there is no place to house them.

"We are prepared, quite honestly, to take the heat to make sure the people of this valley are safe," said Horiuchi, who said the project would likely cost between $60 million and $80 million. It would probably be paid for by general-obligation bonds issued in 1997.

"This largest public-works project in the history of the state will be done without a tax increase," he said.

Bradley and Horiuchi added that the proposed suburban locale allows for sprawling construction that would prove millions of dollars cheaper than building high-rise options on the single square block the county's law-enforcement and court facilities now occupy.

And they said putting it closer to the center of the Salt Lake Valley and near I-15 would make it far more accessible than a downtown site.

Commissioner Brent Overson cautioned against assumptions that the choice is a done deal, however.

"There could be significant opposition," he said, warning that South Salt Lake opponents who don't want another jail in their community in addition to the county's Oxbow facility might take the issue to court.

Under the commission's proposal, the county would keep limited booking and holding-cell facilities downtown in a remodeled version of a mental health unit that was built a decade ago and first occupied in 1985.

And should the 3300 South location - which is in the unincorporated county - prove to be the county's final choice, it could well serve someday as justice central for the county, with a courts complex eventually built at the site, replacing the one used today in central Salt Lake City.

Horiuchi declined Wednesday to reveal the price tag on the land at 3300 South, saying it is currently being negotiated.