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The Utah Transportation Commission found Friday that it has many new friends, now that the Legislature authorized borrowing $1 billion to accelerate highway projects around the state.

Meeting in St. George, the commission listened to a long parade of mayors, county commissioners and legislators from around the state seeking to persuade the commission to spend some of that bond money on projects in their areas.

They showed up for the public comment period of the meeting, which is usually short, and spent an hour and half making quick pleas for consideration.

The Legislature gave the commission power decide where to spend the $1 billion from bonds to be issued over the next four years, arguing that would take politics out of deciding where to spend money — largely by perhaps accelerating projects the commission has already approved but hadn't secured funding for.

Many of the officials who appeared Friday were making pitches for projects not already on the approved list.

They pointed at provisions in the legislation calling for $100 million of the new money to be spent on projects that "have significant economic development impact associated with recreation and tourism in the state." They argued their projects would qualify.

"Let's promote recreation in southern Utah," said Hurricane Mayor John Bramall.

He and other mayors, city council members, county commissioners and legislators from St. George, Cedar City, Ivins, Hildale, La Verkin and Washington pitched numerous local projects they say are needed to reduce congestion caused by tourists, or to improve safety for motorists, bikers and pedestrians.

The St. George meeting was within easy driving distance for those local leaders. Others came from much farther away to seek money.

State Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, came to plead for extra money to complete environmental review work for a possible alternative route for U.S. 40 that avoids now-congested Main Street in Heber. He said that is needed to start buying land for future work.

He joked that if that project does not proceed, "We're going to have to learn how to double-deck Main Street in Heber."

Perhaps coming the farthest was Farmington Mayor Jim Talbot. He made a pitch for a new interchange on Interstate 15 at Shepard Lane in his city — and for work to add safe pedestrian and bicyclist routes through an interchange system with I-15, Legacy Highway and Pages Lane near the large Farmington Station shopping area.

"With Farmington growing as quickly as it is … and the congestion that is there, we need to have these pathways," he said. "We think this is a great opportunity to lessen congestion up there."

The commission simply listened to the requests, but Chairman Kent Millington told officials it will consider their requests as it prioritizes where to spend transportation money.

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