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Developers break ground for toll road

If successful, route could be model for bridging $$ gap

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WASHINGTON TERRACE — Utah's first toll road will be only a mile long, spanning the Weber River and linking U.S. 89 with the South Weber interchange of I-84.

But the $10 million Adams Avenue Parkway may cover a much greater distance in bridging the gap between local needs and state funding.

If, that is, motorists are willing to pay up to $1 each way to travel the road when it opens, perhaps as soon as December.

"I think it'll be used extensively," Rep. Carl Saunders, R-Weber, said Tuesday. "I think it'll exceed all expectations."

Saunders and other state officials, including Gov. Mike Leavitt, attended a ceremonial groundbreaking for the toll road Tuesday. Construction is already under way.

"The great part of this is, everybody benefits," Leavitt told the gathering. "The citizens of this area will benefit by literally saving hours out of their lives."

The town of Washington Terrace, which annexed 135 acres of land on either side of the planned route three years ago, will also benefit from the road.

"Washington Terrace has been a bedroom community with little economic development. This will give them an excellent, excellent opportunity," Saunders said.

The creation of commercial and residential development along the corridor is exactly what prompted rancher and developer Doug Stephens to undertake the project. He owns much of the property to be developed.

Stephens said he still does not know how much toll to charge and could not say how much money he expects the toll to generate over time.

He said the only money that needs to be paid back is the $2 million borrowed from the state. By law, he does not need to begin paying it back until 2007.

Jim Allen, a consultant from Alabama hired to manage the parkway's toll system, said Stephens will have no problem recouping his costs — and then some.

Allen, president of United Toll Systems Inc., owns three of Alabama's four private toll facilities and is developing more private toll roads in other states, including Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina.

"This is happening all over the nation, all over the world," Allen said of the trend toward private toll roads.

Allen argued that motorists using the parkway will save money. Citing the American Automobile Association as his source, Allen said it costs about 50 cents a mile to operate a vehicle. If motorists pay a $1 toll but shave five miles off their trip, they've just saved $1.50, he said.

Allen said it will be possible, through the use of a radio transmitter, to have a charge made to a credit card electronically and enter the four-lane toll road without having to stop. Those who do need to stop and pay should not be stopped more than a few seconds or cause a large backup, he said.

"We've got facilities that are running 20,000 (cars) a day . . . and there is virtually no wait," Allen said.

About 3,000 to 4,000 motorists are expected to use the Adams Avenue Parkway each day.

The state Department of Transportation looked at charging tolls as a way to help pay for the planned Legacy Parkway in southern Davis County but rejected the idea.

"There has not been a lot of excitement for toll roads other than this one," acknowledged House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, who attended the groundbreaking. He is not related to Doug Stephens.

Marty Stephens said there is no question that if the Washington Terrace parkway succeeds, other private developers and communities in Utah will consider tollways as a method for making the transportation improvements they seek.

Clint Topham, a retired UDOT administrator and how area manager for the engineering firm Parsons Brinkerhoff, couldn't agree more. But he said there is an inherent problem with charging tolls for public road projects in one area, and not in another. That's one reason many Davis County residents opposed the Legacy Parkway toll idea, he said.

"The public says, 'We paid for the Bangerter Highway, we paid for I-15, and now we have to pay a toll?' " for another public road that just happens to be in their backyard, Topham said. But with private toll roads, the public has a choice, Topham and Allen stressed. Motorists can save time by using the toll facility or use existing routes generally available to the public.

E-mail: zman@desnews.com