Utah highway officials are tapping the brakes on the proposed West Davis Corridor freeway and slowing their schedule for making a final decision on the project after federal agencies expressed concern that the freeway could destroy too much of the Great Salt Lake's wetlands.
The Utah Department of Transportation now says it hopes to issue a final environmental impact statement by next summer, instead of by year's end as originally planned.
Officials hope for a confirming final record of decision by the Federal Highway Administration by the end of 2014.
"This is an important decision that affects many people and we want to make sure that we get it right," UDOT spokesman John Gleason said. "Due to the amount of comments we've received, we felt it was appropriate to adjust the schedule. We want to allow ourselves time to properly consider and address each comment we received during the public comment period."
UDOT received more than 1,600 comments on its plans earlier this year. Probably the most concerning was one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that threatened to deny permits needed for construction because of damage to Great Salt Lake wetlands.
The corps wrote that federal law allows it to permit only the least-damaging alternative route that is practical. But it said UDOT's preferred route which would begin at Glovers Lane in Farmington "has the most acres of direct and indirect" impact to wetlands of all finalist alternatives studied.
It said an alternative beginning instead farther north at Shepard Lane would be less damaging, but UDOT has insisted that would destroy more homes and businesses.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior also sent comments opposing the Glovers Lane option, as did local environmental groups and neighbors of the preferred Glovers Lane option.
The three federal agencies encouraged UDOT to look closely at what critics call the "shared solution" alternative to avoid building a freeway by improving existing roads and adding more mass transit.
UDOT said in its announcement about slowing the schedule, made in a monthly newsletter, that extra time is needed partly to "study new alternatives presented during the comment period."
UDOT said its study team is "conducting further study of the new and existing alternatives." It added that changes to "UDOT's preferred alternative may occur."
The freeway would be the northwest extension of the Legacy Parkway which itself was built after a four-year legal battle over damage it could do to wetlands. Compromise resulted in a parkway that has a reduced speed limit, special sound-muffling pavement, a ban on trucks and extensive areas of preserved wetlands, open space and a trail system. The new proposal does not include such mitigation.
Friends of Great Salt Lake, which opposes the freeway, wrote in its fall newsletter, "The proposal is a high-speed truck and car corridor paving over farmland, wetlands and homes that will become little more than a road to sprawling gas stations, big-box stores and new auto dependent homes."