Governor approves Legacy Parkway pact

Mapped out: Utah transportation officials project the road will be finished by fall 2008
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The Legacy Parkway and the compromise that made it possible will provide a model for future controversial highway projects, politicians and environmentalists said Monday.

"Sierra Clubs around the country are watching this," said Sierra Club spokesman Marc Heileson at a bill-signing ceremony at the governor's office.

With Legacy supporters and those who had sued to stop its construction gathered around him, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed the Legacy Parkway agreement and a law banning large trucks from the scenic byway. The scenic designation also excludes billboards.

Lawmakers approved the measures last week in a special session of the Legislature.

The compromise was difficult for both sides, Rep. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said at the signing. "We witnessed something very special and unique in coming together on this agreement."

"We knew it's better to negotiate than to litigate," said Rep. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

The hard-fought compromise offers more than gridlock relief for I-15 and additional protection for Great Salt Lake wetlands, Huntsman said. "It means something from a quality of life standpoint for all Utahns."

More to the point, Huntsman's signature means construction on the 14-mile scenic road should resume by May. Utah's Department of Transportation projects the road will be finished by fall 2008. The highway has been stalled since November 2001, when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected UDOT's environmental impact study, ruling it did not adequately consider routes less harmful to wetlands.

Fear of more lawsuits drove the compromise, even though many lawmakers complained that a handful of litigious environmentalists has subverted state authority over highway construction.

After a heated debate, lawmakers quickly approved the compromise.

The settlement requires the state to buy 121 acres of property that will be part of the Legacy Nature Preserve. Heileson said everyone had to give up something during the 10 months of negotiations. Now, the state has a good project, he said, instead of a major freeway cutting through sensitive Great Salt Lake bird habitat.