ST. GEORGE – Increased congestion and thousands of hours wasted by traffic delays will be an inevitable result of the expected increase in the population of Washington County, despite transportation planners’ best efforts.
Transportation officials showcased a myriad of transportation projects, including a new SunTran mobile phone app, at the 2017 Dixie Regional Transportation Expo held Tuesday at the Dixie Center St. George, 1835 Convention Center Drive.
The projects include new and improved roadways, bridges and interchanges.
The expo was sponsored by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, which predicts future travel demands in the area and sets transportation goals and objectives.
Watch video in the media player top of this report.
Funding gap, congestion
With the current county population of 160,000 expected to double by 2040, transportation planners will have their hands full, Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Myron Lee said.
Currently, Southern Utah residents spend 2,200 hours per day experiencing traffic delays, Lee said.
If no new road projects are constructed, by 2040 that number will increase to 45,000 hours per day of traffic delays – residents stuck in traffic on local roads.
With projects planned with money that is already earmarked for transportation, traffic delays are expected to total 19,000 hours per day, Lee said.
“If we had additional funding for transportation, we could reduce that down to 10,000,” Lee said.
Roughly $4 million per year for transportation would have been generated by the 2016 ballot measure Proposition 1, had it passed, Lee said.
Proposition 1, a local option sales tax of .25 percent, or 1 cent of every $4, would have helped fill a shortfall in transportation revenue that used to come from the state gas tax that has declined over the past 20 years.
Instead, the proposed tax increase failed in the November general election.
Without funding from Proposition 1, cities will need to fill in the gap to avoid massive congestion, Lee said.
“If the cities were to contribute $4 million per year out of their general funds, we could have that additional funding level,” Lee said.
Still, transportation officials are chipping away as well as they can, Lee said. For example, the new diverging diamond exchange across Interstate 15 at Exit 8, St. George Boulevard, increased the intersection’s capacity by 10 percent when it was built four years ago.
But that 10 percent has already been absorbed by increased traffic, Lee said. The recently completed I-15 underpass at Mall Drive increased the Exit 8 capacity by another 10 percent and more projects are planned.
In Washington City, the Merrill Road extension will be a new section of road that will help alleviate traffic in Washington near the border with St. George.
The new section will connect the existing Merrill Road at 20 East to Washington Fields Road, public works inspector Bronson Bundy said.
The road will help connect Mall Drive to Washington Fields Road, which is a main corridor in Washington.
The project is currently in the acquisition stage and an environmental assessment is expected to begin within a couple of weeks, Bundy said.
Hurricane planners are working on an environmental assessment for Purgatory Road, which will connect state Route 9 near the Washington County Regional Park to state Route 7, also known as the Southern Parkway, Hurricane City Engineer Arthur LeBaron said.
The new road will run through Purgatory Valley and connect at the Long Valley Exit for SR-7 and will require a new bridge across the Virgin River.
“Right now there’s significant development on the north end of the Purgatory Valley, LeBaron said, “we need a secondary access.”
The new road will take pressure off of Telegraph Street, SR-9 and I-15 and will benefit industrial development in the area and provide Washington Fields residents with easy access.
The project is important for safety, economic development and regional mobility, LeBaron said.
Right now the project is in the preliminary stages of right-of-way acquisition and will be a joint project between Washington and Hurricane cities and Washington County.
The project will cost tens of millions of dollars, LeBaron said, and is at least five years in the future.
SunTran demonstrated a new mobile phone app that tracks the location of all of the system’s buses.
“Now the customer knows exactly where the bus is at all times,” SunTran manager Fred Davies said. The app tracks buses and can let riders know when the next bus will reach a particular bus stop.
“It’s a free app that anyone can download,” Davies said. The app has been available for about six months for Apple and Android operating systems.
The app has saved SunTran employees a lot of telephone calls and costs very little to make available.
“It’s neat to have such a simple technology that makes such a difference for the customer,” Davies said. A website and a text number offer the same information for those without smartphones.
The app is called “Ride Systems” and users should select “SunTranUtah” within the app.
Buses are running at about 80 percent capacity most of the time; averaging 450,000 to 470,000 total rides per year, Davies said.
The Interstate 15 corridor through Washington County has several ongoing and planned projects over the next several years. Projects currently under construction include the I-15 Exit 4-5 auxiliary lane and Virgin River Bridges project, which are expected to be completed in December 2017.
The following projects are underway or are planned for the next few years on I-15:
- Green Springs Drive interchange improvements.
- Exit 16 at state Route 9 interchange improvements.
- Exit 4 Brigham Road interchange improvements.
- Additional widening of I-15 through the St. George corridor to provide auxiliary lanes (planned over the next decade).
Other area projects
- East St. George Boulevard improvements will address congestion by adding an additional westbound lane between 900 East and 1000 East. The existing median will be removed and replaced and lighting will be relocated and the signal at 1000 East will be modified.
- Bluff Street will be widened from two lanes to three lanes in each direction from St. George Boulevard to Sunset.
- SR-9 improvements from Rockville to Zion National Park will include resurfacing and widening shoulders.
- Various Washington City projects including Merrill Road Extension and an interchange at milepost 11 near or at Main Street.
Those who attended the Transportation Expo were invited to fill out a survey which also entered them into a drawing for prizes. Officials are also seeking comments from members of the public who did not attend. To fill out the survey online, go here.
For more information on the 2015-2040 Regional Transportation Plan, see the Dixie MPO’s website.
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