Writing the future: Public comments encouraged for $2B roadway projects

Bluff Street in St. George, Utah, June 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After several years of thought and analysis, state and local officials recently completed plans for 170 roadway projects over the next 30 years. Now they’re seeking the general public’s comments and concerns regarding an estimated $2 billion worth of infrastructure improvements.

As of Friday, the final draft of the 2019-2050 Regional Transportation Plan — created by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) — is open for feedback from the general public. Project maps, routes and proposed upgrades can be seen on the MPO’s website, with Appendix B having key details.

Public comments on proposed roadway projects are encouraged via email at RTPcomments@fivecounty.utah.gov; the public comment period closes Aug. 3.

The 53-page plan, revisited and revised every four years, encompasses projects being pursued by the Utah Department of Transportation, Washington County, the city of St. George and area municipalities. It tackles issues related to congestion, air quality, transportation funding and public transit, among others.

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

A draft copy of the 2019-2050 Regional Transportation Plan produced by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, St. George, Utah, June 19, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

Among the projects listed is the passionately-debated Northern Corridor that would connect Red Hills Parkway to Washington Parkway and I-15 at Exit 13.

However, the proposed roadway would cut through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, sparking concern among environmentalists and federal lands and wildlife managers who are reluctant to allow a highway through an area set aside for the protected Mojave desert tortoise. The controversial project is currently in a study phase involving UDOT and the Bureau of Land Management that is listed for $4.8 million.

Planners are proposing that the northern corridor be constructed sometime within the next 10 years. If eventually approved, the first phase of construction would be a two-lane highway with an estimated $58 million price tag.

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

It is not uncommon for state and local road officials to plan road infrastructure years in advance, particularly due to a fast-growing population and its consequences on traffic and transportation.

“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).”

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington County has a population of 171,000 people. Planners foresee the population at 251,000 by 2030, swelling to roughly 391,000 residents by 2050.

Estimates from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Center, meanwhile, predict 500,000 Washington County residents by 2065.

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

Trying to imagine what will happen 30 years from now can be a bit daunting, but there is a popular old adage that goes, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” And the future of Washington County, St. George and other area municipalities is being debated, discussed and created.

Citizens who want to be heard, who desire a say in creating that future, have until Aug. 3 to voice their comments and concerns.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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

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