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11400 South link to I-15 gains nod

Judge turns down residents’ request to halt project

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Construction of an I-15 interchange at 11400 South can proceed, a judge ruled Monday in denying residents' request to halt the project.

State and federal highway administrators met the necessary legal requirements when studying the proposed interchange and can start construction this summer, according to the federal court ruling released Monday.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell's ruling denies a request from a group of residents for a temporary injunction against the building of the interchange. The residents had claimed that the Utah Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration had approved the interchange based on studies that did not consider all of the interchange's impacts.

Attorney Jeffrey Appel, who represents the residents, said he planned to discuss an appeal with his clients. If the ruling stands, it will be difficult for any group to dispute the decision of a government agency, he said.

"It sets the bar so high for administrative appeals," Appel said. "It makes the court into not much more than a rubber stamp for what the agency decides."

In the 46-page ruling, Campbell said that the highway officials studied everything required by environmental regulations and had come to the appropriate conclusion that the interchange would have no significant impact on surrounding areas. The residents had contended that the interchange would destroy wetlands associated with the Jordan River and would ruin open agricultural space.

The Highway Administration and UDOT did not need to consider the impacts of the 10600 and 12300 South interchanges when assessing the 11400 South project, Campbell said. The residents had wanted the agencies to consider the impact of the existing interchanges along with the proposed interchange.

Tom Mitchell, assistant attorney general for Utah, said the ruling means that residents' chance of success in a lawsuit is slim. While the residents have used emotional arguments to garner support for their cause, he said, the interchange's approval came because the facts proved that the interchange was needed and would not adversely damage the area.

"There was never any question that the court would decide it based on the facts of law," Mitchell said.

The ruling proves that the Federal Highway Administration and UDOT acted reasonably when they approved the interchange, Mitchell said, and that they had not tried to skirt the law to push construction forward.

UDOT officials said Monday they planned to begin work on the $34.5 million interchange before the end of the summer.

"UDOT is pleased the judge understood both the fact that UDOT met environmental requirements and the federal government agreed with those," said John Njord, UDOT's executive director. "In addition, the judge understood the serious need for the 114th South interchange."

During construction, the contractor will restrict I-15 traffic in the area to one lane in at least one direction, and possibly both directions, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Full overnight closures of the freeway, a common occurrence during the I-15 reconstruction project, will not be necessary or allowed on this job, UDOT officials said.

E-MAIL: jloftin@desnews.com; zman@desnews.com