While it appears there are enough votes to approve the Legacy Parkway settlement agreement, opponents are working hard to ensure the deal doesn't pass during a special session today.
Tuesday, Rep. Dave Ure, a settlement opponent, said amendments are planned to a bill that is accompanying the final settlement agreement — an action that, if approved, would scuttle the Legacy deal.
"You'll like it," said Ure, R-Kamas, smiling as he wrapped up a press conference Tuesday.
Ure is not proposing the amendment. He wouldn't disclose who is proposing the change but said votes to approve the Legacy deal will be close.
The reason why an amendment to the accompanying bill is worrisome, according to supporters, is that any changes to the bill would mean the final settlement agreement is also changed. If the settlement is changed, those who signed it can back out of the negotiated agreement.
"A vote to amend is a vote to kill the agreement," said Marc Heileson, regional representative for the Sierra Club. "I hope legislators will see an amendment for what it is — a back-handed attempt to kill this."
The accompanying bill changes Utah statute to prohibit trucks on Legacy, something that must be done through legislation, not just in the settlement agreement. The settlement agreement cannot legally be changed. It must be voted up or down.
The settlement agreement includes the following provisions: a ban on truck traffic, no billboards on the west side of the road, speed limits reduced to 55 mph, $2.5 million for a study of light rail and bus rapid transit, and money for trails.
The Utah Department of Transportation maintains that if the settlement isn't passed today, the road likely will be caught in litigation again, resulting in delay and more costs. The current cost to build the road is estimated to be about $680 million.
The Senate looks to have enough votes to pass the deal. House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, has said he has about 30 votes; House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake City, said a majority of his 19-member caucus is in favor of the deal.
A total of 38 votes are needed in the House to approve the Legacy settlement.
Curtis says the deal lawmakers will vote on today is much better than the original deal UDOT presented to lawmakers in July. The original deal would have made the settlement part of a binding federal court order, said Curtis.
"In fact, it would have been a court decree" with Utah's federal court in essence overseeing the construction of the 14-mile highway, said Curtis. If the plaintiffs saw something in the construction they believed violated the agreement, they could have run to a federal judge to stop construction — a totally unacceptable situation, Curtis said.
The original deal also gave certain "public policy groups," most likely environmental groups, more of a supervisory position in the road's construction.
"We had a meeting of House (GOP) leadership and voted unanimously to tell the governor not to sign that agreement," said Curtis.
Ure said the final settlement has provisions that could be used by plaintiffs to stall construction on Legacy again.
"This (settlement) has enough holes in it to drive a semi-trailer-truck through. And semis aren't even allowed on Legacy," said Ure. "We can't have our cake and eat it on both directions," he said in arguing against having a dispute resolution process in the Legacy agreement.
Curtis said not one penny will be spent by UDOT to buy additional rights-of-way or let contracts until a six-month review period — which could start running immediately with approval of the settlement — runs out.
"We will not lose any more money on this road," said Curtis.
Finally, Curtis said no deals have been made with minority Democrats to get pro-Legacy votes. Discussions have been held about funding for the Grant Tower section of the 900 South railroad in Salt Lake City— a line Salt Lake officials have been trying to get closed for some years. Millions of dollars are needed to reconfigure the Union Pacific track in the area to make it safer and less noisy.
"We made no promises, but we'll look at Grant's Tower" in a fair manner in the 2006 Legislature, Curtis said.
To read the final Legacy settlement, go to www.udot.utah.
gov. Today's special session will begin at 5 p.m.