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Counties wary of plan to shift control of state roads

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Nothing is final, but county officials are becoming increasingly wary of a plan to shift control of some state roads to local governments.

The Utah Department of Transportation just released a prioritized list of 1,332 miles of state road that could be transferred to local control. Of those miles, about 500 fit into a "priority one" category, meaning the state believes they "clearly don't belong on the state system," said UDOT spokesman Tom Hudachko.

Brent Gardner, executive director of the Utah Association of Counties, said local officials — particularly rural county commissioners — are concerned they will be asked to manage a road on the list without knowing how much funding is "attached" to that road.

"It's like going to the store and having someone ask 'Do you want to buy this?' without telling you the price," he said. "How do you make a decision without knowing the price?"

Members of the Utah Association of Counties are meeting today to discuss the newly prioritized list. The state Highway Jurisdictional Transfer Task Force will have a meeting Tuesday where local governments will have an opportunity to share concerns with lawmakers.

Besides funding, other worries include the condition of roads when transferred and the feasibility of maintaining those roads. In Box Elder County, some of the roads considered for transfer are more than 50 miles from county maintenance facilities, according to Commissioner Scott Hansen.

"If you look at it fiscally and operationally, it is absolutely a disaster," he said.

Both state lawmakers and UDOT officials say they are aware of concerns, but the list is only the beginning of a lengthy debate about whether to transfer roads. Members of the state Highway Jurisdictional Transfer Task Force have said they will review potential transfers one-by-one.

"We haven't even started to look at the budget end of this thing," said UDOT spokesman Tom Hudachko, speaking for the department's involvement in creating the list. "The only thing done in regards to creating and prioritizing the list is trying to go in and analyze state code and what that should be in applying that to these roads. As far as what costs or condition, we haven't started to look at that kind of stuff."

UDOT was asked by state lawmakers to create the prioritized list during a June 7 meeting of the Jurisdictional Transfer Task Force. In creating the list, UDOT reviewed state code that defines the purpose of a road: Does it move people through a region or is it simply for access?

During their meeting today, the Utah Association of Counties will talk with county officials to determine if any local roads should be considered for transfer to state control. They will present those findings to the state on Tuesday.

The Highway Jurisdictional Transfer Task Force is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. in room W125 in the House building. Members of the task force include seven state lawmakers, six local officials and UDOT executive director John Njord. The seven lawmakers are the only voting members of the task force.

E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com