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UDOT pares freeway plans

Options for long-term use in county are narrowed to 5

Deseret Morning News graphic

LEHI — The Utah Department of Transportation has pared to five the number of options for a long-term freeway-usage plan in Utah County.

The department began with 21 options just over a year ago.

"We've considered everything you can possibly imagine — and some stuff that might go beyond," said Merrell Jolley, UDOT project manager for the I-15 South Project.

The first alternative would be to stop all new construction after high occupancy vehicle lanes on I-15 between Lehi and Orem are completed. Crews are now working on those lanes.

The second option — called Transportation Systems Management — would also stop new construction with the HOV lanes. However, the option would call for ramp meters and a bus rapid transit system to better use the existing I-15 infrastructure.

Options No. 3 through No. 5 include widening I-15 by as much as two lanes in some areas. Any of those options would also include aspects of the No. 2 option, such as ramp meters.

Option No. 3 includes only widening the freeway; option No. 4 would widen it and include a commuter rail line that would terminate in downtown Provo — a change from initial plans that had the line ending in Payson. Option No. 5 would widen the freeway and create a bus rapid transit system in a dedicated lane.

The widening plan would extend the stretch between Draper and the University Parkway exit in Orem to six lanes. (The present HOV project will create four lanes.)

Then, the freeway would go from three to five lanes from University Parkway to Mapleton, from two to four lanes between Mapleton and Spanish Fork, and from two to three lanes between Spanish Fork and Payson.

UTA already owns the right-of-way to put a commuter rail line on the west side of I-15 from Draper to Provo and has also favorably reviewed the buses that would be used in a bus-rapid transit system, which are designed to look similar to commuter rail cars.

Jolley said UDOT is still about a year away from a final recommendation.

The environmental impact survey, which has been going for just over a year, will need another 2 1/2 years to complete.

"As we evaluate both the environmental impacts and the financial impacts of each option, we'll make a decision that makes sense not only for Utah Valley, but for Salt Lake as well," Jolley said.

Jolley emphasized that a number of factors could still influence which option will be chosen or could require UDOT to come up with another option.

One of those factors is the Mountain View Corridor Project, another UDOT undertaking that will create a north-south thoroughfare reaching from I-80 on the west side of Salt Lake City to as far south as the shores of Utah Lake in Utah County.

Jolley said the development of the Mountain View Corridor will be a major factor in how the I-15 project moves forward.

"We have assumed that Mountain View would do the arterials alternative, which would bring the corridor back to I-15," Jolley said. "Arterials would have the greatest impact on I-15. That's not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing."

The arterials would be a number of new east-west roads in Bluffdale, Lehi and Saratoga Springs that would connect the west-side freeway to I-15.

Any changes to that plan, Jolley said, would result in adjustments to the I-15 plan.

Jolley said the I-15 project has been both challenging and fun but has been made more realistic by good cooperation from UTA.

"It's important to note, I think, that UDOT and UTA are in partnership in this project," he said.

Choosing the best option will not be the last big challenge, however — there is still no funding for any project. Cost projects for any of the options have not been completed.

UTA officials say any project would require local assistance for funding, which could be difficult to secure in Utah County, as residents have not responded enthusiastically to the idea of tax hikes to support transportation projects.

John Inglish, UTA general manager, has said UTA is waiting for Utah County to establish its priorities. Utah County leaders have thus far have hesitated to increase local taxes that would be directed to UTA transportation plans.

A possible shift in those priorities could have been manifested Wednesday when Utah County Commissioner Larry Ellertson was sworn in as a member of the UTA Board of Trustees.

Ellertson said he brings no agenda but hopes to create an open dialogue and better express the issues in Utah County to the board.

"I believe we here in Utah County truly have a desire . . . our interest is not dissimilar to those who have mass transit in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties," he said. "We're willing to work and we look forward to working with you."