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The groups say little demand exists for a freeway in rural western Davis and Weber counties, and say projections show it would be used at only 50 percent capacity by 2040. They say it would divert money from truly needed transportation projects, create more urban sprawl and pollution, ruin neighborhoods and damage wetlands and wildlife.
"When the state is in dire need of money for health care and education," and reducing east-west transportation problems in the two counties, "Let's do that before we build a new freeway … that isn't needed and spend $650 million," Tim Wagner, national representative of the Sierra Club, said at a press conference.
It could be a prelude to recurrence of earlier nasty legal battles over the 11.5-mile Legacy Parkway. A lawsuit by environmental groups halted its construction and, after years of delay, forced a more environmentally friendly redesign that included extensive wetlands protection, a trail system, lower speed limits and a ban on large trucks and billboards.
Wagner and Roger Borgenicht, a co-chairman of Utahns for Better Transportation, said it is too early to talk about legal challenges to the West Davis Corridor. But they called on the Utah Department of Transportation to delay next week's planned release of a draft environmental impact statement, including naming its preferred route.
They asked UDOT to slow down to study a proposal by the groups to discard plans for a freeway, and instead improve transportation in the area through more reliance on mass transit, using innovative interchange designs and express lanes to resolve east-west congestion and focusing on creating more walkable communities where people live, work and play in the same area and need to drive less. Details of some of these ideas are online at utahnsforbettertransportation.org.
UDOT spokesman John Gleason said UDOT still plans to release the study next week. But he said UDOT will then listen to public concerns before making any final decisions next year.
"We welcome their feedback and input," Gleason said. "No final decisions have been made" on the 24-mile extension of the freeway.
"The days of building big freeways is over in most communities, but not here," Borgenicht complained.
Community groups also argued a freeway would hurt and divide their neighborhoods.
"This is no Legacy Parkway ... It will not have any speed restrictions or restrictions on truck traffic, no restrictions on billboards, no sound-reducing pavement, no plans for sound walls, nothing. There will be many impacts," said Lori Kalt, president of the Save Farmington citizens group.
Syracuse resident Tracy Sylva said, "I have seen how this freeway will not only divide our city" with a 14-foot elevated roadway that is 250 feet wide, "but is dividing friendships." She said different parts of town push different routes in hopes of saving their own homes, but forcing removal of others.
Heather Dove, president of Great Salt Lake Audubon, said the highway could directly affect more than 120 acres of Great Salt Lake wetland habitat, and "bisect the most common north-south flyway approach of numerous large birds. These are birds that need expansive open habitat for low-flight hunting, landing and take-off."
She said it could disrupt aquifers, create pollution from runoff and car exhaust. "It will result in large-scale devastating permanent impacts to critical Great Salt Lake shore land habitat, which will be irreversible into perpetuity. It will change forever the natural character of the Great Salt Lake."
Other groups that joined to oppose the freeway included: Citizens for a Better Syracuse, Attorneys for Clean Air and Environment, Great Salt Lake Alliance, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, University of Utah Student Clean Air Network, Western Resource Advocates, Utah Birders and the clean-air group Governor, We Cannot Breathe.