UDOT admits I-15 widening will cut into parks and school ball fields, while demolishing scores of homes and businesses

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Last week, UDOT released the first public document in its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the widening of I-15 from Farmington to Salt Lake City.

A summary of public comments and a screening of potential alternatives, the report reveals that the agency is leaning toward the narrowest of possible widening options. But that 12-lane scenario is expected to displace families from 43 residential properties, force relocation of 27 businesses, and adversely affect 7 historic buildings.

Although it surely knows where those businesses and homes are located, UDOT released no maps of impacted properties in the screening report.

This weekend, a local GIS expert provided groups opposing the project with the likely locations of homes, businesses, and public spaces to be impacted.

Why is it necessary?

UDOT insists that its project is backed-up by regional transportation plans. It also is necessary to “replace aging infrastructure, improve safety, and meet travel demand in 2050.”

Why infrastructure replacement or safety improvements can’t be made without widening the interstate isn’t addressed.

UDOT’s demand analysis, provided in detail in another document (the Draft Purpose and Need), relies on assumptions that are self-fulfilling prophesies rather than any serious consideration of providing travelers with attractive alternatives to driving alone in a car.

Projected demand for 2050 is predicated upon fewer than two occupants per vehicle – just like today. In addition, “The model predicts that an additional approximately 140,000 daily person-trips will occur between Salt Lake and Davis Counties between now and 2050.”

If UDOT continues to widen roads, why wouldn’t that come to pass? “Modeling has shown that, even under the action conditions, I-15 is projected to experience congested conditions in 2050 but at a lesser amount than would occur with the no-action scenario.”

Yet the report admits, “Widening I-15 by itself cannot satisfy the expected increase in regional travel demand but is one of several projects currently planned to accommodate future travel.”

One of those is double-tracking of FrontRunner, which UDOT includes in all of its possible project scenarios.

Alternatives that didn’t make the cut

The report documents nearly 3000 public comments during its outreach period, November 10 to January 13.

Some of those demanded a transit-only option.

UDOT’s analysis rejects the feasibility of that scenario, stating “A transit-only alternative would not meet the purpose of the project because it would not address aging infrastructure needs on I-15, improve safety on I-15, or meet the projected travel demand in 2050.”

Limiting the transit conversation to only FrontRunner double-tracking, “The estimated increase in FrontRunner commuter rail trips would serve future north-south travel demand between Salt Lake and Davis Counties but would not be enough to offset the need to add additional capacity to the system.”

Other suggestions, like putting the interstate underground, didn’t make the final cut for alternatives moving forward. The reason provided was that temporary north- and southbound lanes would be needed during construction of a tunnel and to do so, a larger number of homes would need to be relocated. Alternative options to that massive widening during construction, like detours to I-80 and I-215, were not discussed.

The Rio Grande Plan, which seeks to re-establish a regional rail hub at the Rio Grande Depot, while consolidating and undergrouding rail lines in Salt Lake City’s west Downtown, was also mentioned numerous times in public comments. UDOT has rejected it out of hand.

The report states, “The Rio Grande Plan is a proposed change in land use and not a regional transportation solution.” Yet why wouldn’t providing people with attractive transportation alternatives to driving alone cut down on demand for UDOT’s highway widening? It does in other countries, like the Netherlands, who have an extensive rail and bicycle network and the highest driver satisfaction rate in the world. Right here in Utah, car traffic decreased after 400 South after Trax was put in.

Yet the report insists, “The Rio Grande Plan does not address the purpose of the I-15 Farmington to Salt Lake City Project. Aging infrastructure on I-15 is one element of the purpose that needs to be satisfied by an alternative. The Rio Grande Plan would not address the maintenance, safety, economic, or mobility needs for I-15. The I-15 project is still needed whether or not the Rio Grande Plan is implemented.”

Witness a self-fulfilling prophesy in action. To be sure, the I-15 project is definitely needed—in order for UDOT to justify its massive budgets and dubious solutions to traffic congestion that it alone has created.

Remember this modeling prediction when, after the Farmington to Salt Lake City I-15 project spends $1.6 billion and removes scores of homes, businesses, and acreage of public space:

“All I-15 mainline concepts would reduce travel time by 49% to 72% and improve average speed by 95% to 275% compared to 2050 no-action conditions.”

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.