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Working on road projects at night when traffic is light can reduce traffic jams, minimize business disruption and speed completion. Trouble is, state highway officials say some counties ignore that and stubbornly enforce ordinances banning late noise.
So the Legislature is examining perhaps forcing counties to change such ordinances to allow more night work. Counties hope to head off a loss of their local noise control through negotiations.
Shane Marshall, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation, made a pitch for help last week to the Legislature's Transportation Interim Committee.
"Nighttime construction plays an important role," he said, "in minimizing the impact to the public."
UDOT often tries to avoid slowing traffic at peak drive times by shifting work into night hours. He added that the agency has reduced congestion by building some new bridges on the side of roadways and then slipping them into place over one night.
Marshall concedes that "it's noisy at a time when it's not typically noisy. And because of that noise, local ordinance requires UDOT or our contractors to secure temporary noise permits."
Sometimes local ordinances "just look at noise," he said, so those officials decline to consider the other potential benefits and refuse the permits.
"We believe that not all of the impacts are being discussed in that permitting process," Marshall said. Some officials say that their ordinances simply state that night work is not supposed to happen, "and they have a hard time coming away from that position."
So Marshall asked lawmakers to consider legislation to require counties to consider the benefits of nighttime construction and the noise to allow finding a balance.
"I would be glad to work on that bill," said Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal. "I'd rather be inconvenienced for 30 days than 60" because lack of nighttime work may slow a road project.
Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, said he's willing to help. "There are more negatives in doing [road work] during the day than there are negatives if we do it at night."
Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville and the committee co-chairman, added, "Getting it done when there are fewer cars on the road makes sense." He asked UDOT to try to work with counties to see if they can come up with legislation to accomplish that.
"If you can't work it out together," Anderson warned, "then we'll work it out."
Lincoln Shurtz, director of government affairs for the Utah Association of Counties, said counties told Anderson and UDOT they are willing to work "on an alternative process that considers all factors and not just noise."
"Obviously, we are advocates of local control," Shurtz said, and do not want to lose that.
So he said UAC is negotiating for a method "maintaining some sense of local control" so that "we can consider unique factors for each county," but still ensure that local officials look at more than just the noise created.
Added Shurtz, "We're pretty confident we'll be able to do that."