Environews, Environews

Environews: They built a better road

By Amy Brunvand

Mia Love has it wrong re. Doug Owens and the Legacy Highway

Utah Congresswoman Mia Love (R-UT-4) has been running misleading attack ads against challenger Doug Owens (D) over his role as a lawyer for Utahns for Better Transportation (UBET) opposing construction of the Legacy Highway. Love’s ad says that the fight over the Legacy Highway cost public money, but never mentions that the result was a much, much better highway development.

Fifteen years ago the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) proposed to build the Legacy Highway, a poorly conceived, environmentally destructive freeway which would have punched through Great Salt Lake wetlands, promoted sprawl development, and actually increased traffic miles driven, resulting in more traffic jams and generally worse air quality along the Wasatch Front (traffic planners know that you can’t build your way out of traffic jams because new roads generate new traffic—the original plan had no transit option). UBET and the Utah Sierra Club filed a lawsuit to force highway developers to consider environmental impacts, and they won.

The highway that was eventually built includes a bike trail, a nature preserve and a good alternative to driving in the form of FrontRunner commuter rail.

The outcome of the Legacy Highway fight is widely viewed as a successful demonstration of how environmental laws serve to promote public interest via community dialog. In specifically attacking the Legacy Highway, Love seems to be advocating an outdated planning model that the Wasatch Front cannot afford, considering projected population growth and climate change.

According to UBET, the problem with the original Legacy Highway proposal was that the goal was simply to put more cars on the road without thinking about air quality, wetlands destruction, sprawl or creating livable communities.

UBET suggests that future transportation planning should start with the question, ”How can we reduce predicted increases in traffic?”   This is particularly important since Utah’s  population is still growing, and with population increase comes more pressure for unnecessary road building.

Utahns for Better Transportation: utahnsforbettertransportation.org; Utah Chapter Sierra Club: http://utah.sierraclub.org; Davis County Trails: daviscountyutah.gov/trails

Amy Brunvand is an academic librarian working in the University of Utah Sustainability Office which coordinates sustainability education, research and initiatives at the University.

This article was originally published on October 6, 2016.