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HUGE $$$ NUMBERS STUN PANEL

In case anybody hasn't noticed, road supply and road demand are out of sync along the Wasatch Front, fueling a growing-if-belated discussion over what to do about it and who ought to pay.

A spirited microcosm of the debate surfaced Wednesday morning during a mostly dry interim legislative committee meeting that took on some life as lawmakers were presented with occasionally mind-boggling testimony.Thomas R. Warne, the new director of the Utah Department of Transportation, understated the topic by saying, "We have many, many significant needs that are absolutely warranted but there is not sufficient money."

To say the least.

Dave Berg, project director on the proposed rebuilding of I-15, which would be the biggest single construction project ever attempted in Utah, didn't mince words as he presented a set of schematics explaining the ambitious undertaking.

If legislators want the project finished by its proposed completion date in 2002, they will have to fund it to the tune of perhaps $200 million a year, a staggering amount even by state budget standards.

"That's double or triple the (current UDOT capital-improvement) budget," said Berg. UDOT today spends a total of about $350 million annually, the lion's share for maintenance work that doesn't include new construction.

During Wednesday's confab before the Transportation and Public Safety Interim Committee, the question of responsibility for traffic-works projects also came up, as school administrators showed up to object to a proposal that Wasatch Front school districts be charged for sidewalks, signs and overpasses associated with new school buildings.

"That may end up being more than the cost of a school," said Raymond Whittenberg, superintendent of the Jordan School District, who was joined by Davis County School District Superintendent Rich Kendell in insisting that schools can't pay for such infra-struc-ture.

Both agreed, though, that public schools are affected more today by traffic than they were a few years ago.

"In one of our schools, we have as many as 500 cars (dropping off children) every day . . . we have to have traffic controllers in the parking lot," said Whittenberg.

Legislators backed off the proposal, opting to subject the bill in question to further study.

Committee members were also treated to an update on an ongoing fight over where a limited amount of money would be best spent on a project to put sound barriers between local interstates and residential neighborhoods.

The session lasted three hours and was a study in the headaches of governing during a time in which limited resources are being severely tested. The moment that summed it up best was when Berg produced a serpentine drawing that showed how UDOT wants to rebuild what it calls The Big Interchange, where traffic comes together at I-15, I-80 and the 2100 South freeway.

"Explain that," said one testy committee member.

"This mess?" responded Berg.

"This mess," nodded the member, who said it was indecipherable, and reminded him of a Rorschach test.