Concerns of proposed highway exit waylay budget hearing

The Washington City Council: L-R, Councilman Jeff Turek, Mayor Ken Neilson, Councilmen Garth Nisson and Troy Belliston, Councilwoman Kolene Granger and Councilman Kurt Ivie, Washington, Utah, Feb. 22, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

WASHINGTON CITY – A lively exchange took place between the Washington City Council and a city resident Wednesday when he raised the topic of a proposed highway exit that some worry may empty onto Main Street once built.

“As I’ve looked through the budget, I can’t find the line item in the budget for shafting the downtown residents with a freeway off-ramp,” resident Douglass Ward said during a public hearing originally slated to take comments on the city’s proposed 2017-18 budget.

Ward, who is also a candidate for City Council this year, told the council he and others feel they’re not being adequately informed or given voice about something he said would “literally destroy the value of hundreds of homes” in the downtown area.

The project Ward spoke of has sometimes been referred to as the “Exit 11 project” by city and Utah Department of Transportation officials. The general idea is that an exit off Interstate 15 somewhere between the Green Springs/Exit 10 and Washington Parkway/Exit 13 interchanges would help ease the pressure on Exit 10.

The Green Springs/Exit 10 interchange has been referred to as a “broken interchange” by city officials in the past and is possibly one of the most hated interchanges in Washington County due to how congested it can get.

The proposed exit is still in the preliminary planning stages, but both Main Street and 300 East have been put forth as potential locations for the off-ramp.

Those locations, particularly Main Street, do not sit well with some downtown residents.

Currently, money has been put forth by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization and Washington City for an environmental assessment, or EA, for the project. The purpose of the EA is to analyze the overall feasibility of an exit in the general area and then offer recommendations.

Main Street and 300 East could ultimately be considered viable options, or completely disregarded in favor of something else.

No decisions have been made,” Councilman Jeff Turek said. “We know we have a problem and we’re looking for solutions.”

As a part of a council work meeting held Tuesday, Turek said, the council is planning to put together a citizen committee to help provide the city and UDOT with input on this and other transportation projects.

“You have to recognize why people would fear for a highway off-ramp to be put in front of their homes,” Ward said, adding that he believes the citizens should have been informed and involved in the process long before the EA was considered.

“It seems like a nuclear option,” Ward said, further saying he didn’t believe the city had exhausted all of its options before looking at the downtown area for a potential exit. “Please don’t go Hiroshima on Washington City.”

Following the council meeting, Mayor Ken Neilson said the city has more options than just Main Street.

“We have a bubble of potential places for a road to go,” Neilson said. “It’s not just here or there. It could be 100 East, or it could be nothing.”

The council will discuss the matter of a proposed exit in a meeting set for July 11. As for the EA study itself, while it is funded, it has yet to start.

Other business

The City Council approved a reduction in the city’s transportation impact fees. The original fee was $3,159, and has been dropped to $2,332. The new rate will take effect in 90 days, per state law.

I’m hoping people are actually noting we reduced something,” Councilwoman Kolene Granger said.

The council also approved the city’s $55 million 2017-18 budget.

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Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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