Some Salt Lake leaders concerned with UDOT's proposal to widen I-15
The Utah Department of Transportation is conducting an analysis into improving the nearly 17-mile stretch of I-15 from 400 South in Salt Lake City to the US-89 interchange in Farmington by potentially adding more lanes in each direction.
- It's an effort to address Utah's booming population growth and to improve the corridor's aging infrastructure.
- The state's population is expected to double by 2060, according to projections from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
Details: UDOT outlined potential traffic solutions in its ongoing I-15 environmental impact statement that would widen the freeway by 226 to 286 feet to improve the flow of cars and enhance safety.
- I-15 currently has three general-purpose traffic lanes and an HOV lane in Salt Lake County running in each direction. In Davis County, there are four lanes and one HOV lane.
- The average travel time between Salt Lake City and Farmington is just under 20 minutes. If nothing is done, that commute could take up to an hour or more by 2050, according to UDOT.
What they're saying: “Our aim is to strengthen the economy, connect communities, and improve health and mobility for everyone who uses the I-15 corridor,” said Tiffany Pocock, UDOT I-15 project manager in a Nov. 10 statement.
- This week, UDOT organized three open houses associated with this project. One was held virtually, and the other two were in Rose Park and Bountiful.
The other side: Alessandro Rigolon, an assistant professor in city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, told Axios he's troubled by the potential displacement of low-income communities living near the freeway.
- Rigolon also said adding more lanes doesn't always lead to reduced traffic and travel times in the long run. He referenced how traffic congestion has worsened on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles even after its $1 billion expansion was nearly completed in 2015.
- "We can't build our way out of traffic by building more lanes," he said.
- Rigolon said he'd rather see UDOT make more investments in public transportation instead.
Yes, and: Several community leaders and west side residents told Axios they were concerned with UDOT's potential widening efforts and the impact it could have on the environment and air quality.
- Shelby Stults, a board member of Sweet Streets, who moved to Rose Park three years ago, told Axios that UDOT has not identified the number of, if any, businesses, homes or institutions that could potentially be removed as a result of the proposed freeway expansion.
- "We see that as an incomplete analysis, and we'd really like to see that study before proposals are offered for this project," she said.
- Dan Strong, who lives in Rose Park and is the president of the Westside Coalition, told Axios he wasn't privy to the full scope of the project but said adding more freeway lanes could worsen air quality.
Between the lines: The west side of Salt Lake is already the focus of an ongoing federal study into the numerous environmental inequities the area is facing.
Meanwhile, Jon Larsen, transportation division director for Salt Lake City, also expressed worries about the impact on local neighborhoods telling Axios, "It's really concerning," but it's an ongoing conversation, he said.
Go deeper: UDOT spokesperson John Gleason said they are still in the process of figuring out the potential impacts lane widening will have on homeowners and businesses.
- "Everything's on the table right now," Gleason told Axios, including the option to not move forward with the lane expansion.
By the numbers: The price tags for the proposed traffic solutions have not been announced, but the Utah Legislature has already appropriated $1.6 billion for such projects, according to KSL.com.
What's next: The public can provide input on the project's website until Dec. 16.
- Gleason anticipates the release of the environmental impact study will be fall 2023.
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