U.S. District Judge Teena Campbell ruled this week that construction should proceed on a new freeway interchange at I-15 and 11400 South.
South valley commuters should heave a sigh of relief.
In fact, all commuters and taxpayers along the Wasatch Front should be relieved. Had the judge ruled in favor of a group of Draper and South Jordan residents who were seeking to halt the project, the Utah Department of Transportation would have had trouble proceeding with many of its road construction projects. That's because the lawsuit challenged the mathematical formulas UDOT uses to justify the need for new or wider roads. Campbell ruled that those formulas are valid, and that they satisfy environmental regulations.
The lawsuit sought to compel UDOT to consider the impact other nearby interchanges have had on the environment, and claimed it would destroy wetlands and agricultural lands. The residents also contend the interchange is being built primarily for the benefit of Wal-Mart and Home Depot, which are under construction nearby.
People have a right to sue, of course. But to complain about highway construction in the south end of Salt Lake County is like complaining about the amount of sand being used to sandbag the swelling banks of a flooded river. Anyone familiar with that end of the valley understands how rapidly it is growing and how tense drivers can become when traffic backs up during peak times. If the recently completed I-15 reconstruction project has a down side, it is that the residents of this section of the valley still find themselves in a bottleneck each afternoon trying to cram onto the few existing offramps.
Large retailers would not build in the area without a strong residential base to provide customers. Large retailers also heighten an already existing demand for road access. UDOT officials argue, correctly, that growth from residential and commercial construction in the area justifies the need for a new interchange.
The truth is, growth always will impact the environment. Intelligent and well-planned growth can reduce the damage and preserve a measure of open space and wetlands.
To stand against the tide of growth in the south end of the valley, and the infrastructure needs it causes, is counterproductive and unrealistic.