ST. GEORGE – The public comment period for the proposed Bluff Street expansion is quickly coming to an end on Friday, March 2. However, public comments are still asked for and encouraged by officials of the Utah Department of Transportation and Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“If we missed out on something, we want to know it,” said Myron Lee, the manager of the Dixie MPO.
The Dixie MPO, not UDOT, was the organization that originally looked into addressing the potential future needs of Bluff Street traffic.
And just who, or what, is the Dixie MPO? There was little mention of the organization during the Feb. 15 public comment meeting by officials until the meeting concluded. Even then, UDOT officials referred to it simply as “the MPO.”
So what is the Dixie MPO?
According to its website, the Dixie MPO describes itself as state-designated entity designed “to oversee transportation planning in the urbanized and urbanizing areas in Utah’s Washington County…”
The policy-making body of the MPO, called the Dixie Transportation Executive Council, or DTEC, is made up of local elected officials and representatives from UDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, Lee said.
The DTEC is aided in the more scientific and technical aspects of transportation planning and management by are handled by the Dixie Technical Advisory Council.
The boundaries of the Dixie MPO include St. George, Washington, Santa Clara, Ivins and some unincorporated portions of Washington County.
Now what does the Dixie MPO do exactly?
Lee narrowed the MPO’s duties down to the following items:
- Crunching numbers and predicting future traffic needs.
- Planning for future road projects.
- The prioritization of recommended road projects.
- Determining how future road funds will be used.
One of the many future projects the MPO looked at was Bluff Street, Lee said.
“We looked at Bluff Street some years ago and determined we would have to do something about congestion by 2015,” Lee said.
Once the need for improvements on Bluff Street was determined to be one of significant priority, the information was presented to UDOT. UDOT agreed with the MPO’s findings and proceeded to help fund the resulting Environmental Assessment. It is this study in which the currently proposed alternatives to Bluff Street can be found.
The Dixie MPO contributed $1.8 million to the study, while UDOT contributed $800,000.
The Dixie MPO receives $2 million in federal funds annually, which Lee called a “drop in the bucket” when compared to the actual cost of road construction.
“The study was done to accommodate [future traffic] needs with the least impact,” Lee said.
The results proposed by the EA, Lee said, are “analyzed in detail,” with nothing being decided on a whim.
“We wouldn’t spend $1.8 million on a whim,” he said.
A great deal of time and effort was put into the EA, yet Lee acknowledged not everyone would be thrilled with the proposed results.
“Taking care of future traffic needs is not based on public opinion,” he said. “It’s based on science.”
Many considerations were taken into account during the EA. Among them were:
- The impact on local flora and fauna.
- Which businesses and homes may be impacted by the project.
- How much different facets of the project would cost.
- Future population and traffic density.
Various proposed alternatives to portions of Bluff Street were dropped because they did not meet the needs established by the EA.
Local members of the community, like architect Richard Kohler who also has a background in road planning, proposed their own alternatives for Bluff Street.
“You don’t have to widen Bluff Street,” Kohler said.
He said his proposals were less expensive and would help alleviate congestion, all without the need of widening the Bluff Street corridor.
Kohler’s proposed alternatives were looked at by the team overseeing the EA study, but were subsequently rejected. Kohler was told his design would not be able to handle future traffic volume.
“It was very naïve in my opinion.” Kohler said.
During the public comment meeting on Feb. 15, Lee was the only speaker in favor of the Bluff Street expansion project. Still, he said he appreciated the concerns that came from each person who voiced an objection.
“We need to have a feel for how the public views the project,” Lee said, and the public meeting provided some indication of public opinion.
While the EA was thorough, Lee said it did not address the personal and emotional impact the project would have on the lives of affected residents.
Lee looked to the property owners from the Sunstone Homeowners Association, a number of whom spoke at the Feb. 15 meeting. Each addressed how the building of the jughandle intersection would negatively impact their lives and property.
“They are very emotionally attached to their property,” Lee said.
Lee said he also appreciated the words of business owner Jason Hurst, who spoke out against the proposed median u-turns, as well as the jughandle due to its claiming Eighth Hole of the Red Hills Golf Course.
Each comment made at the meeting was recorded and will be included in a package to be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for review. Whether or not the public comments against the Bluff Street expansion sways the FHWA’s decision concerning project remains to be seen.
“It’s easy to appraise a property, but it’s difficult to calculate the human impact,” Lee said.
The public comment public itself remains open until Friday, March 2.
Public comment can still be sent to:
- E-mail to: [email protected]
- Bluff Street Study
c/o H.W. Lochner
1245 East Brickyard Road, Suite 400
Salt Lake City, UT 84106
For more information on this and similar topics visit these links:
UDOT’s proposed Bluff Street project.
Copyright 2012 St. George News