Unforeseen engineering difficulties have chewed up the $3 million budget. About $2 million more is needed to complete it.
Nonetheless the tunnel will immediately make the area much more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly for those plying Parleys Trail, Gilmore noted.
The Sugar House Draw has been in the works since 2003, when Johanson's design got top honors in a competition for the project's plaza.
She has earned international acclaim for her public art. And, among other things, she trained under Georgia O'Keeffe, known for striking flower paintings and colorful Southwest landscapes.
Johanson's sego lily will be both a work of art and a flood-control device, said Utah architect Steve Gilbert, who convinced her to submit a proposal for the competition. The planned giant flower is 200 feet across and up to 30 feet deep, and various aspects of its design will provide a history lesson on the arrival of the Mormon pioneers.
"Where you have public art, the public must always come first," Johanson said. "It should be lovely and welcoming and never a monument to the designers."
The sego lily will be made of concrete and colored reddish-gold like the cliffs of Echo Canyon where the pioneer wagons first came into Utah, Gilbert explained.
The trail west of the tunnel will resemble a slot canyon as it moves toward Hidden Hollow, Gilbert added, complete with towering hoodoos like those in Bryce Canyon.
Johanson's excitement about the project doesn't give away the fact that when Gilbert first approached her, she turned him down. He later asked her a second time, with no luck. Eventually she relented just in time to pull together the design by the deadline for the Sugar House Draw competition.
Although few Utahns have seen the design, it has appeared in European and Japanese publications, Gilbert said. "Already people are saying, 'I want to come out and see it.' "
The entire project should be completed by spring 2016, according to the Salt Lake County Parks time line.