The newest battle cry of the Legacy Highway opponents: The highway is a poor plan for the Wasatch Front's future needs.
By pursuing the Legacy Highway, transportation officials have shown a nearsighted approach to long-range transportation solutions, said Bob Johnston, a professor of environmental planning at the University of California-Davis.Johnston attacked the idea that new roads work as transportation solutions.
"Freeways only solve congestion for a short time," Johnston said.
Near the end of August, Johnston expects to finish an analysis of Utah's long-range transportation models by the Wasatch Front Regional Council.
The results of the study will demonstrate numerous inadequacies in the regional council's planning, Johnston said.
The study was commissioned by the Sierra Club, although the results will have little to do with the common environmental issues - such as wetlands - associated with the Legacy Highway. The Sierra Club chose Johnston because of his modeling for other urban areas, including Los Angeles and Chicago.
Often, flawed reasoning leads people to conclude that more roads will solve their congestion problems, Johnston said.
Actually, Johnston said, new roads increase congestion and urban sprawl, as people move farther from the city and make longer trips because of quicker travel times.
Also, many people assume roads solve congestion because of past performance. "The illusion that congestion is slowed by more freeways is because we keep building more freeways," a trend which won't continue as land becomes less available, Johnston said.
That illusion is reflected in the modeling done by the regional council. Johnston said the council's modeling lacks credence because it doesn't accurately assess the possibilities of alternative forms of transportation, such as commuter rail or bicycle trails.
Preferably, Johnston would rather see the Utah Department of Transportation delay any Legacy Highway construction until the Envision Utah study is completed. That way, the planning ideas of that study could be incorporated into long-range transportation plans.
Those plans could still include the Legacy Highway project, a 170-mile minimum access highway running between Nephi and Brigham City. However, Johnston said, good urban planners would probably suggest scrapping the $1 billion highway in favor of other alternatives.
Suggesting that cities provide transportation options other than highways is not new, however.
"These are well-known ideas that people think won't work," he said.
And in some cases, he said, options like commuter rail have failed. Primarily, though, those failures occurred because of poor planning, which encouraged people to continue driving alone.
"Just adding mass transit doesn't do anything," Johnston said. "It's a straw man, unless you have good land-use planning."
That planning is where Envision Utah - which Johnston pointed to as a prime example of government taking positive action for long-range planning - should be incorporated, especially in the case of a huge project like Legacy.
"(Building Legacy) is a horrible act of prejudice to the entire planning system," Johnston said.
But such ideas, though valid, simply won't work in present-day Utah, said Carlos Braceras, UDOT project manager for the south Davis Legacy Parkway. To accomplish what Johnston suggests requires regional planning, an option currently not available in the state.
"The locals should make the land-use decisions, not the state or UDOT," Braceras said, noting that a philosophical and political shift would have to occur for regional planning to work. "Right now, it is not a reasonable assumption for us to work under."
Long-range planners have also shied away from getting involved with any current land-use decisions, said Julie Hillman, public awareness manager for Envision Utah.
"You always have issues that are pending, and you always need to look long-term," she said.
To help ensure that their project works, the organizers of Envision Utah ask those involved to forget about their views on the short-term issues.
"In order for this to be successful, we need everyone to check their hats at the door," she said.
Many of the ideas were discussed during a Wednesday morning meeting, which included representatives from the Legacy Highway opposition, the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, UDOT and the regional council.