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UDOT mulls feasibility of toll road

Mountain View Corridor is being sought for west side

TOOELE — State transportation officials said Friday they should know by the end of the year whether it would be feasible to build the planned Mountain View Corridor highway as a toll road.

They also estimated the cost of building the eight-lane, north-south highway — through the west side of Salt Lake County and into Utah County — at between $2 billon and $3 billion, depending on which of several proposed routes and alternatives are chosen.

TeriAnne Newell, Mountain View Corridor project manager for the Utah Department of Transportation, told the Utah Transportation Commission a preferred alignment should be recommended and ready for presentation at public hearings by this time next year. The design team also hopes a federal record of decision, allowing the highway to be built, can be obtained within about two years.

The alignment and design alternatives are being considered as part of the environmental impact statement (EIS) process. That process also includes a look at the feasibility of turning the roadway into a toll road, even though the commission has not officially considered that option for use in the corridor.

"It's a financial issue, but the reason why we're looking at it in the EIS is that it does change some of our impacts. And ultimately, if you wanted to do a toll facility, you need to disclose those impacts," Newell told the commission, which held its monthly meeting in the Tooele City Council chambers.

"The impacts that could be different are traffic impacts. We're going to have a certain number of people that don't want to use a toll facility, so they will be using other roadways, and that's something we need to disclose in the EIS for comparative purposes. It also has a socio-economic impact. You have people who don't necessarily have credit cards and may not be able to use a toll facility for that reason."

Technology, however, is available to make the process of paying tolls fairly seamless.

For purposes of analysis, UDOT is assuming electronic collection would be used if the Mountain View Corridor were a toll road, and "that allows us to have the same right-of-way footprint for a toll or a non-toll facility," Newell said.

A small sticker could be placed on the dash of each car that has paid for highway use. Or a system Newell said has become popular in the Eastern United States could be used — a transponder with a built-in radio antenna that would allow vehicles to continue traveling at highway speeds while the driver was automatically charged.

"The technology is changing rapidly, and even in the next five or 10 years they expect it to change more," Newell said.

Newell's team is now preparing to study travel demand and revenue forecasting with relation to a possible toll road. The goal is to "see what revenue you could actually get out of a toll facility," she said.

Over the next two or three months, the team will be "putting this all together in a financial package and putting that revenue together, seeing what moneys the state would need to put together to get this facility to happen," Newell said.

Also yet to be decided is whether the roadway would follow a path along what is now 5800 West or travel along 7200 West in Salt Lake County. Three optional alignments are being considered in Utah County.

West Valley Mayor Dennis Nordfelt told the commission that the highway, no matter where it is placed, is sorely needed.

"There is not unanimity among even the elected officials in West Valley City about the preferred alternative," he said. "But there is unanimity that one of the alternatives needs to happen. They need to pick a structure to accommodate the traffic. . . . So while there isn't unanimity on which would be preferred, that isn't the issue. The issue is that we would like to move forward as quickly as possible, and we're satisfied that DOT is doing that."

At recent public meetings, project planners disclosed that 240 to 270 homes in Salt Lake County would be removed to make way for the highway, depending on the ultimate alignment. In Utah County, between 20 and 140 relocations would be required, again depending on the alignment.

"I couldn't imagine that we could all agree on one alternative," said Transportation Commission chairman Glen Brown. "Someday, though, we'll have to make a decision."