Thanks to support from House Democrats, the Legacy Parkway settlement agreement is likely to be approved by the Utah Legislature during a special session Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Ralph Becker said Monday a majority of his caucus is "leaning toward or in favor" of approving the agreement. With the Democrats' support, the House looks to have enough votes — 38 — to finalize the deal.

"We have 19 members," said Becker, D-Salt Lake City. "A good majority, well over half, are in favor."

Senators have long maintained they have enough votes to pass the agreement, which requires a majority vote to pass.

House Democrats discussed their position and voting strategy during a caucus meeting early Monday. Part of the session was closed to the public, but during the open portion of the meeting, Democrats discussed concerns over several aspects of the final Legacy settlement.

Top concerns included: a ban on truck traffic on the road; cost; safety; lack of involvement in negotiating the agreement; a so-called ban on billboards; and the viability of another lawsuit against the road.

Carlos Braceras, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation, told Democrats he wasn't concerned about future lawsuits — those who signed the agreement are prohibited from suing again.

"I don't think there's a serious challenge to the road," he said. "This is not the type of project that there will be a challenge to without a lot of resources and time."

Becker expressed frustration with a provision in a framework settlement agreement that said "no billboards" would be alongside Legacy. In reality, billboards can be located on private property that adjoins the roadway, just not on state property.

"My own opinion is that you're underestimating the creativity of the billboard industry," Becker said. "While we say no billboards, I'll bet in 20 years from now, that won't be the result."

Still, Democrats ultimately spoke well of the agreement during their meeting. Becker disclosed the caucus' favorable position during a subsequent closed meeting with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

The meeting with Huntsman was to inform the governor where House Democrats stood in terms of the Legacy agreement. It was also "an opportunity to talk to the governor about issues we believe are important," Becker said.

House Democrats are not trading votes, however, in exchange for a favorable vote on the Legacy settlement, Becker said.

Rep. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the Democrats' position on the settlement was positive.

"We welcome votes, wherever they come from, for the Legacy Parkway," he said. "I think we'll be able to come up with 38 votes, and I think it'll move forward."

But it won't be easy.

Rep. Dave Ure, R-Kamas, said far more people oppose the settlement in the House than will openly admit to it. Ure is heading a group called Friends of Legacy, which is against the settlement agreement. By settling, the state is setting a bad precedent, said Ure.

"I don't believe this road will be built one day faster with the compromise or without it," he said. "I think there's a lot more than 13 to 14 people in the House that oppose this. It's not a slam dunk unless those people back out because of pressure."

Friends of Legacy has a Web site at: www.goutahgo.org.

Today, House Republicans will hold a caucus meeting to further discuss their position on the Legacy Parkway. The governor's deputy chief of staff, Mike Mower, also will be busy over the next two days making sure there's enough votes to pass the Legacy deal at Wednesday's special session.

"We're going to make it," Mower predicted Monday.

The governor already is cutting short a trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., for a two-day Western Governors' Association meeting. Huntsman will go to Arizona today but fly back early Wednesday.

To view the Legacy settlement agreement, log on to: www.udot.utah.gov. Under the heading "hot items" is a link titled "Legacy Parkway Settlement Agreement."

The first half of the Republican caucus will be open to the public. The special session will begin Wednesday at 5 p.m.


Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com