This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
On July 29, Congress gave final approval to a transportation bill that will bring Utah nearly $1.8 billion to fund multi-year highway and transit projects - the most federal funding ever committed to Utah in a transportation bill. I worked hard as one of the bill's negotiators to get that money for our state.
That's a generous sum, but even $1.8 billion will not solve all of Utah's transportation problems. We must continue to overcome the constant, difficult challenges to maintain our roadways, increase our transit capacity and provide alternative routes along main arteries in the cities.
However, one critical transportation problem facing Utah has a simple but elusive solution: end the litigation on Legacy Parkway and allow the state's well-thought-out and long-deliberated plan to come to fruition.
Anyone who drives I-15 knows the intense need to complete Legacy Parkway. When an accident occurs, or when traffic bogs down, that one link between Salt Lake and northern Utah is closed. Davis County residents know more than anyone of the absolute need to have an alternate roadway for commuters - not only to solve traffic problems but to stimulate economic development.
But every Utahn will benefit from completion of Legacy, because every Utahn is paying the price for its delay. The tab for Legacy's needless delays comes to about $234 million, or about $100 for every person in the state. Originally, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) had a guaranteed contract of $451 million for Legacy's completion. But because of unnecessary litigation by the Sierra Club and other well-funded opponents, the cost is now estimated at $685 million, and running further out of control every day.
Opponents of the Legacy Parkway claim that UDOT proceeded on the project knowing it was illegal and that the state's costs are self-inflicted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Legacy Parkway was fully authorized by every relevant federal agency, and the state had won a lawsuit against the project in district court before construction began. Specifically, in August 2001, District Court Judge Bruce Jenkins reviewed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process after the record of decision was issued and found it sufficient.
The Legacy Parkway also provides a barrier to sprawl, not the inducement opponents claim, by protecting some lands in Davis County from development. Additionally, the Legacy Parkway project is the single largest mitigation of a wetlands removal in America. The Legacy Nature Preserve is creating a 2,100-acre nearby preserve for wildlife, although the project only affects 99 acres of current wetlands.
Utah officials have tried for years to resolve this needless litigation, only to be thwarted each time by well-heeled activists and a few powerful allies in Congress.
Rep. Rob Bishop, Sen. Bob Bennett and I labored to resolve the Legacy Parkway issue through the transportation reauthorization bill and perhaps save Utah hundreds of millions of dollars. We took this action after learning that the negotiations involving the Utah State Legislature, UDOT and the Sierra Club, though promising, could not be implemented in a timely fashion.
Working day and night, we designed language that respected environmental concerns and would allow this 14-mile highway addition to go forward to help alleviate the horrendous traffic jams in northern Utah. In the end, the language was blocked by the project's few key opponents in Congress.
The Legacy Parkway alone will not solve all of the transportation issues confronting Davis County. A shared solution is needed to meet travel demand, including expansion of mass transit, construction of Legacy Parkway and reconstruction and widening of I-15. But quick resolution of the Legacy dispute is critical to saving our state millions of additional dollars and improving the quality of life of those who work south and live north of the project.
Utah citizens have lost $234 million, and the costs are mounting every day. Area wildlife have yet to get their 2,000 acres. And Davis County residents still have to put up with bottleneck traffic and the attendant delays and exhaust fumes. Is anybody benefiting from this needless litigation?
I intend to continue to explore every option, however small the chance of success, in making sure Davis County residents, commuters and businesses throughout northern Utah, and all Utah citizens, don't lose anymore.
Sen. Orrin Hatch represents Utah in the United States Senate.