PROVO - If at first you don't get the green light from environmental agencies, try, try again.
That's the approach state transportation officials are taking to find a workable pathway for the southern portion of the Mountain View Corridor, a proposed highway spanning the west side of Salt Lake and Utah counties.
Officials of the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers balked at the initial alignment through Lehi and American Fork, arguing it veered too close to Utah Lake. So the Utah Department of Transportation went back to the drafting board.
The resulting proposal: Nudge the highway roughly four blocks north, farther into Lehi and American Fork.
"Ultimately, we're trying to find something that works for all stakeholders," Teri Newell, project manager for the Mountain View Corridor, said Monday.
Newell and her team will get residents' take on the new route during an open house Wednesday - and they may get an earful. Though despite the heated route debate, the project has no funding.
While the alignment shift would have less effect on Utah Lake's surrounding wetlands, it would significantly increase the adverse effects to residential areas.
Lehi Mayor Howard Johnson calls such a route a horrible idea.
"If they shift the road toward 1500 South [instead of 1900 South], they will take out a lot of homes," Johnson said. "I can't see a couple feet of wetlands being worth a home."
American Fork officials are putting together a joint City Council-Planning Commission resolution to vent their objection to the adjusted route.
"There are all sorts of reasons why it is not good for the city and the environment," said American Fork Mayor Heber Thompson. "It just makes no sense at all. Is it more important to protect the wetlands or the people in the community?"
Countered Newell: "Any of the alignments we have in Utah County would end up taking out homes."
Though nothing is decided, UDOT officials may be forced to appease the environmental agencies to win approval on the environmental-impact study.
That report is slated to go before the Federal Highway Administration in 2008.
"That's what we're trying to understand right now," Newell said. "That's the whole issue."
Johnson said putting the highway farther north also would hinder the proposed 1000 South road project, force Lehi to have another elevated highway splitting the city, and push more development south of the freeway and into the wetlands.
"The environmentalists are more interested in control than they are in the environment," Johnson said. "We saw that with the Legacy Highway."
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Dave Killam said the agency is willing to work with applicants and cities to find a workable solution, but it has to follow Congress' mandate to enforce the Clean Water Act.
"Of course, the preferred course, if possible, is the one that does no harm to the environment," Killam said. "The next [best course] is to do the least harm to the environment. We view it as a collaborative process."
The Utah Department of Transportation is inviting the public to comment on the proposed alignment shifts at an open house Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Snow Springs Elementary, 850 S. 1700 West, in Lehi.