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Utah County leery about building road

Officials fear cities would try to annex the upgraded area

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PROVO — A new road is irresistible to neighboring cities.

And that worries Utah County commissioners, who fear that once county taxpayers shell out the money to pay for a road in the unincorporated county, a city like Spanish Fork or Mapleton may step in and annex the land.

"That's our experience — you put in a nice road, then they annex it," Commissioner Jerry Grover said. He said the county has a history of upgrading roads, "then getting annexed."

County officials are considering building a road that parallels the railroad tracks between 2400 East and 6800 South. The proposal hinges on a decision to shut down the railroad crossing on 2400 East that connects to U.S. 89.

The crossing has a history of problems. According to a railroad crossing study by Utah County's Public Works Department, from 1986 to 2002 there were 15 collisions at or near the crossing. Seven of the collisions involved trains, with four resulting in fatalities.

"It is a bad crossing," said Jeff Mendenhall, director of the county's planning department. "Because the tracks and the intersection of Highway 89 are so close together, there is just not a lot of room to stack cars up. It creates a dangerous situation there."

Traffic in that area jumped from 322 cars per day in 1996 to nearly 1,100 cars in 2002. Commuters are using those roads to connect to U.S. 89 and travel to and from work in Springville, said Paul Hawker, Utah County's associate engineer.

"That has concerned us because here is a crossing that has had a history of problems and now it is being used as a collector road," Hawker said. "We definitely need to respond to the hazards of this crossing."

County officials want to shut down the railroad crossing at 2400 East, but not until the connector road is built to divert traffic.

"If there is not a new road, there is no good option for people," Commissioner Steve White said. "I think we should build the road."

The county tried to build the road in 1996, but concerned homeowners halted construction. Residents will have the opportunity to chime in at a public hearing in October.

Even if the county builds the road, Spanish Fork has not considered annexing that area, Spanish Fork City Manager Dave Oyler said.

"The city waits for people to petition to annex," Oyler said. "If somebody petitioned to annex, then we would evaluate based on the merits of the petitioner and the annexation."

That doesn't ease county officials' concerns. They don't want to see the estimated $270,000 it would take to build the road get tossed down the drain.

"If we build a nice, brand new road, the temptation would always be, 'Well, we can annex over in that area,' " Hawker said. "That's one thing the county doesn't like to do, is build a nice new road to take care of county roads and then have it disappear into the city."

E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com