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Legacy road is a must, Leavitt says

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The Legacy Highway is a must if residents in Weber and Davis Counties are to keep a high standard of living in the next century.

That's what Gov. Mike Leavitt said while pushing the West Davis Highway portion of the corridor at a transportation symposium at Farmington Junior High Monday."Traffic in Davis County will be unbearable (by 2020) and it will have a short-term and a long-term effect on the general character of the area and the quality of life," said Leavitt, who arrived for the speech 20 minutes late because of traffic on I-15. "We have to build this highway."

Without a new corridor, air pollution will increase dramatically in northern counties because of grid-lock on I-15, Leavitt said. The pollution and the congestion will discourage people from living in the area - driving down property taxes and hurting local economies.

Construction of the highway has stalled because of criticism that it would hurt wetlands near the Great Salt Lake. A route for the West Davis Highway, which would stretch from Farmington to Salt Lake City, was supposed to be finalized earlier this month.

The Army Corps of Engineers wants the highway to run closer to cities to protect wetlands. City leaders, like Centerville Mayor Priscilla Todd, fear it will take up space that communities could use for development.

Todd is disputing one proposed route of the highway because it would use a chunk of land the city needs for industry, she said.

Leavitt called Centerville's situation a "sensitive" issue and said the state is trying to work with the city, adding that construction of the highway is crucial to the long-term economy of Davis County.

Leavitt compared the importance of the highway to a canal early Roy settlers dug. He asked residents to come together to support the corridor, like the Roy residents did to build the canal. Without the canal, the residents in the Weber County town would've had no water for crops. The highway will be as critical to Davis and Weber residents as the canal was to Roy residents, Leavitt said.

"At this point, we've never had such a need to look ahead," he said. "We need to look at our heritage and use it to define our future."

He told the crowd, made up mostly of city leaders and Davis residents, that it's time to quit studying and start building.

The highway has nothing to do with the 2002 Winter Olympics and everything to do with the next 25 to 50 years of Davis, Weber and Salt Lake counties he said.

Some still think the state should examine other alternatives. If the state is willing to spend millions on a new highway, it should also put money into studying other options, said Julie Eldridge, president of an alternative-transportation consulting firm.

Better bus stops, at which "people don't have to stand out in the dark and the cold," would encourage more commuters to use mass transit, Eldridge said. More park-and-ride lots and more bicycle lanes would help.

Utah will need a better mass transit system in the future, Eldridge added. Nearly half of the population will be too old or too young to drive by the time the Legacy Highway is complete.