Road planners seek public input on $2B long-term regional transportation plan

ST. GEORGE — Updated every four years, a long-term regional transportation plan providing local officials with a road map of transportation needs in the decades to come is coming up for public input.

A draft copy of the 2019-2030 Regional Transportation Plan produced by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, St. George, Utah, June 19, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

A draft copy of the 2019-2050 Regional Transportation Plan was presented to the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization executive council Wednesday during its monthly meeting.

The council approved a public comment period from June 29 to Aug. 3. A draft plan will be made available to the public on the Dixie MPO website once the public comment period opens.

The plan lists 170 projects with an estimated cost of more than $2 billion over the next 30 years. It also covers issues related to congestion, air quality, transportation funding, public transit, among others.

Long-term planning and an increasing population

“The expected population growth of the county, coupled with the community’s desire to retain mobility for people, goods and services defines the need for this plan,” the planning document states. “The plan’s purpose is to outline how these needs could be addressed over the next 30 years with consideration of geography, environment, socioeconomic trends, and anticipated transportation demand (needs).”

St. George as seen from the Dixie Rock/Sugarloaf formation at Pioneer Park, St. George, Utah, July 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington County has a population of 171,000 people. Future projections place the population at 251,000 by 2030, with it reaching around 391,000 by 2050. Estimates from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Center place the population around 500,000 by 2065.

“As the population continues to grow, so too will the demand for transportation facilities and services,” the draft plan states.

Among the challenges planners face when dealing with road infrastructure in Washington County is where to put it, as the geography of the region limits just where a new roadway can go.

Highlighted projects

The 170 transportation infrastructure projects will roll out in three phases. The first phase covers 2019-2030 and includes current and pending projects, as well as others yet to be undertaken.

Among the projects listed under phase 1 are: the reconstruction of Old Highway 91 from 200 East in Ivins to the Shivwits Paiute Reservation at $6 million; the 400 South pedestrian underpass crossing under Interstate 15 by Dixie State University with accompanying work on 700 East for $2.8 million; the widening and reconstruction of Merrill Road in Washington City for $2.9 million; the completion of the Southern Parkway connecting to state Route 9 for $75 million; Washington Parkway extension to Exit 13 to Green Springs Drive for $8.4 million; as well as an environmental study related to the northern corridor priced at $4.8 million.

The Exit 16 interchange is being rebuilt with improvements that the Utah Department of Transportation says will improve traffic flow through the area, Hurricane, Utah, June 2019 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Transportation, St. George News.

UDOT is working with the Bureau of Land Management on an environmental impact study for the northern corridor. The roadway would connect Washington Parkway to Red Hills Parkway and cut across the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve to do so.

Federal lands and wildlife managers are reluctant to allow a highway through the area set aside for the protected Mojave desert tortoise. The issue led to proposed legislation in Congress that stalled with the last year’s election.

Read more: House committee passes bill creating ‘northern corridor’ through tortoise reserve

Should the northern corridor be approved for construction within the next 10 years, the first phase of construction, which will be a two-lane highway, is projected to run $58 million.

Other projects mentioned during the phase 1 period that have yet to be undertaken include: the widening of Sunset Boulevard to six lanes from Valley View Drive to 1400 West for $600,000; the widening of state Route 18 and St. George Boulevard to Main Street in St. George for $45 million; and the proposed Milepost 11 interchange and accompanying highway widening between Exits 10 and 13 in Washington City for $36 million, among many other road projects.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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