Monday, January 02, 2006

A Citizens' Alternative By Any Other Name...Smells Just the Same

So let's start out the new year with a bang. I try to stay away from Legacy Highway topics, even though I have been so intimately involved with it, because in the past blogging about it has garnered some pretty hot responses. But what the heck, this one I can't resist, so I'll risk it.

Sunday's DesNews article on the top news stories of 2005 listed the Legacy Highway settlement as the top pick by the editors, though it turned out only one editor picked it as the top story, but the overall rank made it come out on top (readers' choice placed the story at 6th place.)

That's one thing. But another thing has kind of set me off a bit. I just received in the mail the preliminary program for the National APA Conference in San Antonio in April. Browsing through it, I came across a session titled "Smarter Alternatives to Highway Projects." The description reads in part, "Learn how local organizations have developed 'citizens' alternatives' to major highway projects. ... They have been developed through a collaboration of community activists, environmentalists, and consultants in Pennsylvania, Utah, and Vermont."

I was involved, along with planners from several other south Davis communities, in carefully reviewing the so-called "citizens' alternative" to the Legacy, and it was a pretty much a sham. We determined it was a sham because it would never have worked in the real world. It would never have come close to meeting the future demand that is needed, even with a heavy reliance on transit. The consultants from Vermont who helped prepare the alternative had very little idea of local conditions and how existing roadways worked, which became clear from a little questioning.

And the moniker "citizens' alternative" was a double-barreled red herring, for the following reasons. First, polls that Davis County COG and, later, UDOT, engaged showed that the Legacy Parkway as it was proposed in the EIS was supported by some 80% of Davis County residents, nearly as many in Weber County, and in the high 60 percentage range even in Salt Lake County. So how could the alternative legitimately be called a citizens' alternative?

The second reason for the "citizens' alternative" proposal was for public relations purposes (it sounded really good in the press), and as something that could be put before a judge in another legal challenge to cause further delay. A judge, especially an appeals judge in a city far away, would not have the technical background to know if the alternative were really valid, and could conceivably order a more thorough study.

All that is moot now, with the signing of the agreement (which I whole-heartedly endorse, by the way.)

Except that this sham is now being held up as an example in the national planning conference. I called John Thomas, the UDOT planner who was most involved in the recent developments on the Legacy, and asked him if he was involved in this presentation, and he said he was not even aware of it.

Hmmmm. I don't know who put this forward as a topic for presentation, but you'd think that a reputable professional would check all angles first. Guess not.


At 12:25 PM, Blogger Shawn said...

As a local, I thought this "sham" was actually very sound. For instance, the reversible lanes make alot of sense because they can almost double road capacity when extra capacity is needed. When we're taking about freeway demand in Davis County, we're talking about PEAK demand. Building another highway just to deal with traffic conditions that occur only 2 hours a day is, when compared to the citizen's alternative, ridiculously ham-handed.

At 6:50 PM, Blogger Wilf said...


You are looking only at today's demand. What about in 15 years, when demand will be nearly double? Can all this be handled by transit? Not likely, not even by reversible lanes.

And as for the Redwood Road alternative, which is primarily what the citizens' alternative was, it would have crossed I-15 at Parrish Lane in Centerville and then proceeded north along the existing Frontage Road. No way in the world that would ever work.


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