After decades on the city’s books construction of Commerce Drive moves forward

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ST. GEORGE — More than a decade on the city of St. George’s wish list of infrastructure improvements, the construction of Commerce Drive will soon become a reality.

The road for the construction has not been easy. Its been filled with potholes, unforeseen detours, and twists and turns that have put off a southern access point into Little Valley for years.

Commerce Drive is proposed at the south end of River Road near the Fort Pierce Industrial park and residential developments in Little Valley. The project is scheduled to begin on June 1. It is anticipated to take approximately four months to complete.

City officials maintain there is not a controversial reason for the delay, but a set of circumstantial events that have led to the construction project beginning in June instead of an anticipated start years ago.

The SNAFU began when the Bureau of Land Management sold ownership of the land to a sand and gravel company despite the city, along with a private utility company, already having public accessibility and utility easement agreements in place, said Cameron Cutler, St. George public works director.

The location of the planned Commerce Drive in St. George, Utah | Image courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News

Although the easements were agreed to with the federal agency, they required scheduled renewals.

“When the BLM sold the property, they didn’t accommodate the (decision) on a final easement or right-of-way on that roadway where we already had utilities in place,” Cutler said. “Along with a water line, and a portion of a sewer line that comes from the airport.”

Not to place blame, Cutler said, the BLM notified the city that after the sale of the land it would be required to negotiate the terms of the easements with the new property owner.

“This wasn’t an adversarial request,” Cutler added. “Today, if this happens we usually take care of it immediately so things like this will not happen again.”

With the easements that were set to expire in 2018, the city found itself under the gun with the proposed roadway on the books for decades and set for construction.

The sale threw the plans into limbo.

“We held off on the project because the new property owner wanted to negotiate, but it’s been going on and on and on for a long time,” Cutler said.

After years, a negotiated agreement has been signed for the sale of property that will allow for the Commerce Drive construction. There is also an intended benefit to moving ahead with the project.

“The big thing is, for the past two years with the Little Valley development we have a proposed fire station site,” Cutler said. “We cover the area with other fire protection we knew that we needed additional coverage in this area.”

Although the city had purchased land from the developer to build a fire station without the easement for road access from the gravel company, this project could not move forward.

“We really needed to get the fire station in and the (purchase agreement) was the final piece of the puzzle to make that happen,” Cutler said. “It’s a big deal that’s been a long time coming.”

When it begins, the construction will go from 1630 East over the Fort Pearce Wash and tie into Little Valley Road. Future plans are to extend it east and connect the road to the alignment of 3000 East and Copper Clifts Drive, the main arterial heading south.

The approximate cost for the Commerce Drive project is approximately $3.6 million which also includes a waterline and swear line construction.

But now, the project is finally seeing the light at the end of the day, said St. George Councilwoman Dannielle Larkin.

“I am excited because we created Little Valley with one way in and one way out going north,” Larkin said. “Because of this, there have been huge traffic problems for its rapid growth.”

With the Commerce Drive project, it’s going to help a “ton” with traffic flow, she added.

“It will also be a great active transportation corridor,” Larkin said. “Using 3000 East, you can go out but you can’t go all the way through. It will be a great way of connecting by car but also by bicycle. It’s a big deal and will be a big connection.”

Although a freshman on the city council, Larkin said there is no doubt that past local government has fielded complaints about better access to Little Valley.

“In fact, I live in there for 21 years,” she said. “I’ve seen it go from sleepy farming land to a bustling suburb and the traffic in just the last few years has gone through the roof. I definitely see the need to improve traffic flow. This will help a lot.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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