WASHINGTON CITY – Concerned and curious residents gathered at Washington Elementary for a public scoping meeting Tuesday to learn more about a study that will ultimately make recommendations to city officials on how to plan for future transportation issues.
However, downtown residents already have voiced strong opposition toward a potential recommendation that would create a highway interchange between the Green Springs/Exit 10 and Washington Parkway/Exit 13 interchanges on Interstate 15.
“Obviously, this is a huge concern for the community,” Washington City resident Daniel Cluff said at the scoping meeting.
Like other concerned citizens, Cluff, who is also a City Council candidate, has appeared before the council to speak against the idea of an interchange cutting into the heart of the city from I-15.
The interchange would be built to relieve congestion at the infamous Green Springs/Exit 10 interchange. However, area residents say they fear it will destroy the character of the area, decimate property values, create traffic hazards and potentially lead to the loss of homes due to right-of-way issues.
Part of Cluff’s own objections include what he called I-15’s “dark neighbors,” such as human and drug traffickers who would have easy access into a residential area.
Still, he said he is happy for the opportunity to learn more about the project and offer public comment. As long as the environmental-assessment study considers many options and does not narrowly focus on a possible interchange, Cluff said he really didn’t have any issue with it.
The scoping meeting held Tuesday is one of the first steps that helps jump-start the study process, said Mike Shaw, Washington City’s public works director.
The purpose of the meeting is to not only help educate the public on the process the study will take, but to get as much public comment as possible to help shape the direction of it.
“The public input will help (the study) be successful,” Shaw said.
The controversial interchange concept has been suggested in previous studies as a way to help ease the continuing traffic issues surrounding Green Springs/Exit 10. Possible locations are at Main Street and 300 East, but neither has been well received by residents.
However, Shaw said previous data is being ignored as the environmental assessment study is starting from scratch.
“The need of this project is that we need to move traffic,” he said. “We definitely have an issue with Exit 10 and we’re looking at all of our options; what we can do to alleviate the traffic congestion at Exit 10, Telegraph and Green Springs.”
The study will be assessing traffic needs and making recommendations based on its finding that will help shape the city’s future transportation planning for the next few decades, Shaw said.
“It’s the responsibility of the City Council to look forward and see what happens in the next 20, 30 or 40 years and to plan for that as best as possible,” Washington City Councilman Troy Belliston said.
For now, those conducting the study are in the initial stages of learning what directions the public would like to see taken.
The study is also being overseen by the Utah Department of Transportation.
“The study, at this phase, helps narrow the down potential alternatives to a transportation solution,” UDOT spokesman Kevin Kitchen said.
One of those solutions could very well be an interchange, Kitchen said, but that option may not even be considered in the end.
“There could be other alternatives that rise to the top,” Kitchen said. “We won’t know that until we go through this study.”
The study process is projected to finish by winter 2018. Additional opportunities for public comment at project open houses are slated for early next year, as well as next summer.
While road planners and elected officials stress that no solid decisions have been made concerning a new interchange – especially this early in the process – some residents remain unconvinced. They see the initiation of the study as a sign the interchange is likely a foregone conclusion that will forever destroy the heart of Washington City if pursued.
“At this point it seems to me we’re going to have it shoved down our throats one way or another,” downtown resident Daniel Sanderson said, adding that it feels like the interchange seems like a “done deal.”
“It’s dismaying that the City Council appears to be entertaining the potential idea of an interchange,” Sanderson said, adding he also felt a measure of obfuscation and behind-the-scenes dealings have taken place.
“Let’s reason together, not yell at each other and point fingers,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said.
“We need to understand if a multimillion dollar off-ramp really makes sense for that area for the (few) people (who would be) using it,” Neilson said. “Does that make economic sense? I don’t think so.”
It was the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, also known as the Dixie MPO, that recognized the area between Exits 10 and 13 on I-15 would be negatively impacted with congestion and other traffic issues as time passes. Working with the MPO, Washington City ordered an environmental assessment study and funded it to an extent.
The city needs to look forward to growth and the future, Neilson said. With Washington County projected to have a population of over 500,000 by 2065, the reality is today’s roads won’t be able to support that growth without some major planning ahead of time, the mayor said.
“That’s what we’re planning for – reality,” Neilson said.
Those who were unable to offer comment at Tuesday’s open house can still do so at the project’s website: mp11.org. The website also offers material covered during the open house, as well as a previous presentation given to the City Council in July.
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