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Is offramp on again?

Provo mayor now says interchange could be built

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PROVO — Despite a summertime pledge that Provo would "formally end any further discussions or consideration" of an interchange near an upscale neighborhood, Mayor Lewis Billings recently told a group of business leaders an offramp near 1740 North in Provo could be built.

News of a possible offramp near Grandview, a northwest Provo neighborhood, surfaced this summer, upsetting many residents who felt Billings was driving the plan.

If an interchange were built near 1740 North, heavy traffic would run along a road that weaves around horse farms before entering a quiet subdivision where homes sell for $350,000 or more.

In July, more than 300 people who live in Grandview neighborhoods met at an elementary school to complain about the proposed offramp.

A neighborhood chairman, who served as a liaison between Provo's City Council and neighborhood, was subsequently ousted from his post because, according to one resident, he was "a pawn for the mayor."

In what many saw as damage control, Billings sent out a letter Aug. 28 to select Grandview residents, assuring them plans for the interchange had essentially been scrapped. He also told the Deseret News he no longer supported an interchange in the area.

"Most people in the neighborhood felt like it was a political move because it's an election year," Grandview resident Scott McKell said. "I've always suspected that if he gets re-elected he'll be all for (the interchange) because he's Mr. Development."

On Friday at a leadership conference at Sundance, Billings said an interchange near Grandview is still a possibility.

Billings said Tuesday his letter to Grandview residents is consistent with comments made at Sundance and that his position has never changed.

"I was not born with a bent chromosome and as a result I want to build an interchange. But we've got to provide connectivity to west-side residents," Billings said. "I don't want to go on record in one of your articles and say there will never be an interchange."

Billings said his position has always been that an offramp would not be needed if Orem would cooperate in creating an alternative.

That alternative, as outlined in the Aug. 28 letter and reiterated in a statement made Tuesday, is to widen Geneva Road between 2000 South and 1300 South in Orem, making it easier for west-side residents to access existing onramps.

Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn said it has always been the city's position to widen Geneva Road instead of build an offramp. "We've publicly stated that that has been our position from the beginning."

Billings said until Orem officials agree to help Provo widen Geneva, he can not rule out the possibility of a ramp near Grandview.

Orem officials, who oppose an offramp in the area, are trying to annex approximately 40 acres of unincorporated land that would include the site of the interchange.

Provo city protested the annexation in 4th District Court after the Utah County Boundary Commission declined to hear it. The court has not yet heard the case.

Ted Tolson, the recently elected Grandview neighborhood chairman, said he hopes Orem annexes the land.

"We feel like the only way we're going to be protected as a neighborhood is if Orem gets the land," Tolson said. "I think a lot of people in the neighborhood think the mayor's not telling the truth and he still wants the interchange. We're opposed to it 100 percent."

E-mail: jhyde@desnews.com