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Utah Legislature: I-15 expansion may go on to Payson

Cars take the onramp to I-15 and state Highway 6 in Spanish Fork.
Cars take the onramp to I-15 and state Highway 6 in Spanish Fork.
Keith Johnson, Deseret News

PAYSON — Pinching dollars may stretch the Utah County I-15 reconstruction project to Payson.

With reconstruction currently planned to stop at about 6800 South in Spanish Fork, a handful of legislators support a proposal to take the net savings, if there is any, from the $1.7 billion project and use it to add extra lanes from Spanish Fork to Payson.

The caveat is there must be at least $10 million in savings, the estimated cost of adding one lane northbound and one lane southbound, said Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan.

Payson resident Gregory Anderson takes the freeway about twice a week to run errands in Provo.

He said he'd be happy if new lanes were added. "During the heavy traffic times, it's crowded, congested."

About four miles separate 6800 South in Spanish Fork and Payson. If the project is extended, almost the entire vision for I-15 in Utah County could be realized. The county had an estimated 530,837 residents in 2008, compared with 368,536 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census.

After the I-15 reconstruction in Salt Lake County was finished, the Utah Department of Transportation turned attention to Utah County.

"UDOT started studying the project in 2004 with the beginning of the federal environmental impact statement," said Heather Barnum, spokeswoman for the Utah County project, officially called I-15 CORE. "It received federal approval of a 43-mile corridor from 12300 South to south Payson in 2008."

Since then, it's been a matter of money. The Legislature gave UDOT permission last year to bond for $1.7 billion to complete the most critical parts of the project. UDOT decided the project would extend from American Fork's Main Street to Provo's Center Street and advertised it to contractors, saying the agency had $1.25 billion to work with. The winning team of contractors said it could make the money stretch from Lehi's Main Street to 6800 South in Spanish Fork, Barnum said. Ground will be broken in the spring.

If the plan were to be approved, UDOT wouldn't be able to make the decision on extending to Payson for two or three years into construction, said Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, who presented the proposal last week to the Executive Appropriations Committee.

The proposal is one of a handful that are part of next year's transportation budget. Van Tassell warned that it could get tossed as the appropriations committee haggles back and forth over the budget with Gov. Gary Herbert. The state is hundreds of millions of dollars short in revenue because consumer spending and sales taxes are down. Allowing UDOT to expand a project at a time when college tuitions are increasing, human services are being cut and state employees are being laid off may not bode well politically for elected officials.

"Anything's possible," Van Tassell said. "And at the rate the budget's coming, we might be going back to cut some more."

Herbert believes discussing expanding I-15 to Payson is premature, his spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said.

"That determination is most timely at the end of the project, when it is clear where the state budget is and what the most appropriate use of the funding would be," she said.

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