Thursday, September 22, 2005

I Break My Silence on Legacy Highway - Finally

Those of you who know me, know that I have long been involved in the battle over Legacy Highway. More accurately, I would say that my involvement has been in seeing through the plan for a "shared solution" for transportation in Davis County and northern Utah.

I'm sure it's been something of a mystery to kind readers of this blog why I have not sounded off on the Legacy topic before (I haven't been shy to express my opinions on transportation in general). The truth is, I've stayed away from the topic because of the concern that it would just start another extreme flame-war.

I and a few others were involved several months ago with another blog written in support of the Legacy Highway, which we saw as a way to counter-balance the extreme one-sided views being put out by opponents of the roadway. That blog attracted some way over-the-top writers that made any reasonable discussion virtually impossible. While I hold strong views, I generally try not to become contentious. I must admit, I was even goaded into bits of incivility myself in response to some of the things that were written. I was afraid that if I opened the door on this topic again in this blog, so soon after that effort, it would drown out discussion on all the other topics I was interested in blogging about.

Now, an agreement in principle on the highway has been reached between the state and environmental groups who sued over the project. You can read about this in the Trib, DesNews, and Standard. So now I guess I'll risk commenting on it a bit.

I'm very happy to see the agreement come about. I was involved in talking to both sides while the negotiations were under way, at one point even helping (along with several others) to open a sort of informal back channel when negotiations seemed to get stuck and teetered on coming apart. Overall, I can say I am pleased that the agreement was reached that will now allow Davis County and UDOT to move ahead with this key component in our overall transportation strategy.

And let me emphasize, it is one component. There are others, most notably expansion of transit. I've blogged on the topic of transit several times, so those of you who have read them know that I support transit, though I do not believe (as some do) that it is a cure-all. But it is an important part of the overall plan, and is sorely needed. Transit was identified as one of the needed parts of our transportation system for Davis County some 15 years ago, and support for it has steadily increased. I am mightily miffed by the quote in the Trib by Mark Heileson saying, "TRAX to Davis County was not even on the radar screen before the negotiations." Bull. There is currently a study underway for a transit corridor into south Davis County, in which TRAX (and bus rapid transit) are options being looked at.

Davis County officials were the primary movers in getting the quarter-cent sales tax increase for UTA on the ballot in November 2000, because we recognized it was needed to meet our needs. We brought the other two counties (Weber and Salt Lake) along so UTA could move ahead on a region-wide system (and let me tell you, getting the then-Salt Lake County commissioners to agree to put the issue on the ballot was like trying to pull teeth out of a chicken!) But we did it, and it is moving forward.

But we also recognized the dire need for another roadway, and planned as carefully for it as we could. But that's a story I've told numerous times in speeches and editorials, and I won't go over them again here. Suffice it to say, we are glad that everybody is happy enough (or worn out enough!) to agree and move forward. Most everyone is not happy with at least some aspect of the agreement, but then isn't that what compromise is? I don't get everything I want, but neither do you?

I just worry a little bit about the federal process that allows, or even dictates, that this is how we have to deal with major decisions in our metro growth and development. It is still astounding to me that groups that represent a very small fraction of the overall population in our area can get themselves into a position to have such an impact on what is done, and how it is done, in the planning and development of our metro transportation system. By all accounts, a vast majority of residents supported moving ahead with the Legacy as it was proposed, but that was all stopped by a relatively small group. What does this mean for the way we plan and grow in the future?

Enough said. Please, those of you who oppose this position, don't flame out in comments. Express them, by all means, but let's keep it civil, and then move on to other topics.

Thanks.

6 Comments:

At 9:22 AM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Even with the legal challenges resolved, The Legacy Parkway is not scheduled to resume construction until next spring. Our perceptions of the future of personal transportation and the suburban commuter lifestyle could change profoundly by then. I predict that some of the most ardent supporters of the parkway will be questioning the wisdom of proceeding in spring 2006.
As I write this, Hurricane Rita is perhaps a day and a half from landfall and making an ominous turn northward towards America's densest region of oil production and refining facilites. Katrina and Rita are simply accelerating the arrival of a major energy crisis that would have arrived within a decade anyway. The permanent adjustments to our transportatiion habits that will be forced upon us by this crisis will make the parkway redundant.
I am the author of prediction #197 on longbets.org. I invite any Legacy Parkway supporter to challenge the prediction according to the terms of longbets.org

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger Brian said...

A couple of things:

First, I've been a reluctant supporter of the Legacy project for a while. I guess I'm just not far-enough removed from my idealistic academic ivory tower. As a south-Davis resident for most of my life, I had always hoped that there would be greater options than just building more roads, but I've come to realize that there must be multiple options to transportation and you often have to pursue the easy projects first.

As for the compromise, I'm kind of surprised that so little was gained by the opposition after holding out for so long. Sure, the no-truck rule is a sticky point that will cause a number of headaches before this is over, but the narrowed right-of-way was an option in the SEIS

My biggest frustration with the whole process is summed up pretty well by Bob Bernick, Jr. in the Deseret Morning News today. If the State had its act together in the first place, there wouldn't have been as long a hold up. Sure, the opposition would have sued to stop the work, but the 10th Circuit Court probably would have dismissed the suit after a year or so instead of forcing a re-write of an EIS that was obviously flawed.

It's unfortunate that the project has been drawn out this long, but if the administration hadn't dared the opposition to step in its way and had done its job right the first time, the road would be done by now.

 
At 9:40 AM, Blogger Brian said...

As for google_peak_oil, I don't care to wager anything more substantial than my semi-anonymous reputation on the Internet, but I'll offer a few points of disagreement.

1. Population growth by itself will sustain VMT growth over the next decade at least. Yes, vehicle use is growing much faster than the birthrate, but it would have to drop so dramatically to make up for new drivers that I find even gas prices in the $4 to $5 per gallon range as little obstacle.

2. There is not the public transit infrastructure in place in most parts of the country to accomodate the new ridership necessary to a net VMT loss. Certainly new buses and train cars can be added to existing systems, but these things require money to be acquired as well as run. 5 years is not long enough to raise the funds necessary. Furthermore, to lay new track for trains would take longer than 5 years simply because of the federal funding processes required such as to perform Environmental Impact Statements - which can take years even without the suits and appeals that have held up the Legacy project. Add to that construction, and the infrastructure to handle what you predict would take closer to a decade.

I don't see the necessary mass transit improvements being made quickly enough to result in a net VMT loss.

Even allowing for gas prices in the $8 or $9 per gallon range, instead of mass abandonment of cars, I see an increase in hybrid automobile sales - especially since domestic production of such technology is up. At best, there could be a slowing in VMT growth as car pools and such gain popularity, but we as a culture are too wealthy and too stubborn to give up our automobile-dependent mobility so suddenly.

Don't get me wrong, philosophically I sympathize with the sentiment that our dependence on the automobile lifestyle needs to be curbed. I just don't see the forces in play - despite doomsday predictions revolving around recent weather and political events - to push the issue as fast as 5 years. If you'd picked 10 or 15 years, you might have made it easier for me to believe.

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Hi Brian

On LINK-TV - DirecTV Channel 375 , Dish Network Channel 9410
On Sunday, October 2, @ 10 PM EST
The documentary "End of Suburbia"
End of suburbia discusses the likely future production problems we will face with fossil fuels and their alternatives, and what the implications are for the future of automobile dependent suburbia.

Every planner should watch the documentary "End of Suburbia".
You can be completely skeptical of the conclusions if you choose, but as a planner there is no excuse to be unaware of the issues.

If you don't have LINK tv or Direct TV, End of Suburbia is available on Netflix. Or if nothing else, if you are a planner in Davis county I will lend you my DVD and personally deliver it on my bicycle.

 
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Misspelledauctions.com

 
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