WASHINGTON CITY – For nearly three hours Tuesday, residents stood before the City Council and expressed concerns over a potential highway interchange they fear may exit into the middle of a residential downtown area.
The potential interchange, which would be placed somewhere on Interstate 15 between the Green Springs/Exit 10 and Washington Parkway/Exit 13 interchanges, is one of the possible solutions proposed to deal with congestion issues surrounding Exit 10.
Two spots that have been floated as possible locations for the interchange have been 300 East and Main Street – neither of which had any support from downtown residents Tuesday night.
The council chambers were packed with residents to the point there was standing room only, with additional people watching from the hallway.
Outside, signs posted in yards lining the street opposite the Washington City Offices on 100 East read: “Not for sale. Please don’t sell us out to a freeway off ramp.”
Common concerns expressed through the evening related to issues of public safety, particularly related to the elementary school on 300 East and worries over property value and possibly even losing homes to the interchange.
It was also expressed that putting an interchange through the residential area would negatively impact the character of what has been called “the heart of Washington City,” if not outright destroy it.
“It’s going to irrevocably change the character of the area,” resident Daniel Sanderson said.
However, any new interchange or alternatives dealing with trying to fix the myriad issues with Exit 10 will be subject to the findings of an environmental assessment study that could take approximately 18 months to complete.
“There’s no foregone conclusion there’s going to be an interchange there,” Councilman Troy Belliston said, adding that the City Council doesn’t have a goal to see an interchange carve up the downtown area.
Representatives of Horrocks Engineers, who will be conducting the environmental assessment study, were on hand to lay out the process of how the study would unfold and outline ways the public could give input on what has been called the “Exit 11 project.”
The study itself was described as “a decision-making tool.” Once completed it will identify possible solutions to improve traffic. An interchange in the downtown area is seen as only one possibility, provided that option survives the environmental assessment process.
The study will look at various alternatives on how best to deal with Exit 10, Horrocks representatives said, as well as the impact those alternatives have on multiple levels to the surrounding area, including the potential economic, human and social impacts.
Ultimately, a number of alternatives will be picked and made available to the public for review. A highway interchange may or may not be among the alternatives, Horrocks representatives said.
The public will have a chance to provide input through a series of open houses and comment periods. They will also be able to offer comments and questions through email and a hotlink (435-477-6211). A website will also be launched outlining the progress of the environmental assessment study.
A “Community Coordination Team” is also being formed that will consist of individuals representing not just the downtown area but also other facets of the community potentially affected by a new interchange or whatever the study proposes in the end.
Team members are to provide input to the engineers while also sharing what they learn with those around them interested in the project, Mayor Ken Neilson said.
Members of the community coordination team are chosen by the City Council. During the council meeting, Neilson encouraged those interested in being on the team to contact him.
While council members said the environmental assessment needs to be done before any decisions can be made, some residents weren’t having it.
“It seems like we should just toss out the environmental assessment,” said Doug Ward, a City Council candidate who stands opposed to the idea of an interchange.
Every option to fix Exit 10 should have been exhausted before the council decided to commission an engineering firm to conduct the study, he said.
“Before anybody looks at putting a residential neighborhood in jeopardy … we ought to look at all these other simple options, like connecting some of our surface streets around Green Springs exit,” Ward said. “I agree, it’s terrible, but a freeway exit at (mileposts) 11 or 12 is not going to fix that. You’re going to have to directly fix Exit 10.”
Following the meeting, Ward said he saw the environmental assessment as a step toward the inevitable, adding that it felt like the downtown was under attack due to a narrow focus being put on the area between Greens Springs and Washington Parkway interchanges.
When one resident asked the council members their opinions of a highway exit into a residential neighborhood, Councilman Garth Nisson, who lives on Main Street, was the only one who said he was opposed to it.
Belliston said he couldn’t make a decision until the options from the environmental assessment study were presented, saying that not taking that into consideration would be negligent.
The first public open house and comment period concerning the project is slated for Aug. 29.
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