Call his idea the Great Salt Lake drifter.
Although some may not approve of the tactics, and others doubt the effectiveness of his methods, leaders in south Davis County may soon call on Don Johnson to help save their cities."It certainly warrants some more consideration," said Centerville City Manager Steve Thacker about Johnson's proposal, which would send the Legacy West Davis Highway through the heart of the Great Salt Lake. The idea has started to gain favor as the cities see the currently proposed Legacy, Route C, falling short of federal approval.
Construction of the road would employ the use of Johnson's Wasatch Wall Pile technology, which uses precast concrete to build an undulating wall. These undulations take the inertia out of lake waves, the primary source of erosion on most dikes.
Admittedly, such a proposal elicits a number of concerns, ranging from the environment to cost. Johnson, however, confidently attempts to debunk nearly all of them.
Start with cost. Estimates ranged as high as $2 billion during preliminary studies by the Utah Department of Transportation, a figure Johnson insists is almost 10 times too high. Instead, he said because the concrete for the wall could be cast on site and the oolitic sand lining the lake bed could be used as fill, the costs for a road would not exceed $200 million.
Additionally, UDOT's estimates for the proposed Route C road fall short, because the $20 million budget for land acquisition is 8-10 times too low, he said.
One of the main tenets of Johnson's proposal, and possibly the greatest roadblock in it ever gaining approval, is the creation of a freshwater lake on the east side of the road. In fact, this idea - in almost identical form - was proposed in 1990. The only difference is that instead of a dike to separate the fresh water and salt water lakes, it is a road (on the dike).
At that time, the proposal, despite getting serious consideration from the Utah Legislature, fell short of approval for a variety of reasons. Included among those fears were lack of earthquake safety, reduced industry on the Great Salt Lake and the destruction of wetlands.
Confidently, Johnson addresses those issues. The oolitic sand would act like a cushion for the Wasatch Wall Pile, absorbing any earthquake shock waves. Any loss of Great Salt Lake industry would be made up by the tourism and recreation money generated by having a freshwater lake. And as far as wetlands, which is the primary issue in the Legacy fight, having a freshwater lake would create more wetlands of a higher quality, which wouldn't be ruined by salt water.
"It would be one of the great ecological projects in the country," he said. "I can't imagine there's any true environmentalist who wouldn't want that."
Apparently, Johnson's imagination needs to grow. When contacted about the possibility of a Legacy Lake Highway and freshwater lake, the Sierra Club's Chapter Chairwoman Nina Dougherty responded with laughter.
"It's sad that somebody would think like this," she said.
The odds of such a route being considered for Legacy are slim, Dougherty said. Her laughter tempered somewhat, however, when she discussed the likelihood of such a road eventually happening.
"It is possible that if we keep building highways, we will see one built over the lake," she said. "It emphasizes the absurdity of continuous pavement."
Byron Parker, UDOT project manager for the Legacy West Davis Highway, backs up Dougherty's assumptions that the road will not receive further serious consideration, even if costs do prove lower than current routes. Primarily, such a road would fail to meet the purpose of the project.
"When you go through the lake, you don't pick up the majority of the Davis County traffic," Parker said, noting that the road would start in Salt Lake City and cross over to Syracuse in northern Davis County, skipping all of south Davis.
Some south Davis cities, even with the possibility of losing a major access highway such as Legacy, would rather see it on the lake than through their cities.
"Routes A and B, for us, are not an option," said Wendell Wild, West Bountiful's city manager, whose city would be sliced in half by either of those routes. "They would impact our city too greatly," so they would most likely back the lake route if Route C is denied.
Other opponents of Legacy, however, expressed no concern about the lake road because they don't view it as a legitimate idea.
"We've got things that are much more important to worry about," said Cullen Battle of the Farmington Bay Advocates.
If such a road were proposed, however, the fight would make the current battle over wetlands look minor.
"That would dwarf the current Legacy battle," Battle said. "(The current fight) would look like a petty squabble."