December 12, 2018

Gehrke: We shouldn’t squander Legacy Parkway’s special features before we know what we want it to be

By Robert Gehrke, Salt Lake Tribune

The notion behind the Legacy Parkway was for it to be kinder and gentler than the average highway.

That’s evident in the noise-dampening asphalt, the 55 mph speed limit, and the bike paths and bridges that run along the road. There are also no billboards. And, perhaps most notable, there is a ban on big rigs.

All of this was done to protect the wetlands and the critters that called those expanses home and to assuage the concerns of environmental groups and resolve costly and time-consuming litigation.

Over the past 15 years, it has worked out pretty well for everyone involved. Developments have cropped up along the parkway in a way you don’t really see along a typical interstate. It has been designated as a scenic byway and the wetlands have, to a large degree, been preserved.

However, the big truck ban, as my colleague Lee Davidson reported this week, will expire Jan. 1, 2020. Then what?

Well, the Utah Trucking Association wants Legacy open to tractor-trailers and contends that it was always the plan for the road to be available to them once the 15-year moratorium sunsets.

The city councils in Woods Cross and Farmington are not enthused about that concept, passing resolutions recently to extend the truck moratorium.

Sen. Todd Weiler, who represents much of that area, said he plans to sponsor legislation to extend the big-rig ban. He really only has one shot, since the upcoming session will be the last before parts of the compromise sunset.

But he anticipates there will be opposition from the trucking association. One of its leading arguments is that it would be easier and make more sense for trucks to use Legacy to get goods into and out of the inland port.

The problem is that we don’t even know what that inland port is going to look like and how much rail traffic versus truck traffic will be moving into and out of this future shipping hub. We probably won’t know those answers for a few years.

Moreover, in the past decade, thousands of Utahns have built homes and lives along the highway. Condominiums and houses were built to face the highway — and the Great Salt Lake — largely because of the parkway design.

There are grass berms instead of big, ugly concrete sound walls that we typically see along urban interstates, adding to the quasi-pastoral — as pastoral as a highway can be — qualities of Legacy.

“I think it’s an asset and amenity in their community and they shouldn’t have to give that up,” said Roger Borgenicht of Utahns for Better Transportation, an advocate for keeping Legacy as-is.

Ultimately, Legacy’s future may come down to two other Davis County legislators — incoming House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President-elect Stuart Adams.

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