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Northern Utah officials say highway plan puts wetland preservation over human lives

By Matilyn Mortensen | March 15, 2017

Utah Department of Transportation planners have honed in on a road configuration they believe will improve safety and efficiency — and pass environmental muster — when a heavily trafficked Northern Utah highway is updated in coming years.

Local officials, though, say UDOT’s road of choice prioritizes the protection of two acres of wetlands over human lives.

State Road 30, which runs north of the Wellsville Mountains connecting Logan to Interstate 15, is narrow and, in many places, has no shoulder. Road improvements will include 12 foot paved shoulders on either side and a 14 foot center lane with a concrete median.

UDOT officials have proposed merging the highway into two lanes as it passes through a stretch of Bear River wetlands.

At a meeting on Monday, though, the local leaders said they’d like the highway to include two lanes running in either direction the entire way — and pointed out that any required merging would likely increase crashes in the often-foggy wetlands.

“As people are moving in and out of those two to four lane roads, a lot of times it is hard to see,” Cache County executive Craig Buttars said. “If you are changing lanes it's going to be hard to see traffic in your own lane, as well as traffic that’s oncoming.”

UDOT spokesman Vic Saunders said that concern will be addressed.

“We’ll have enough signs and measures that could be put in place to ensure that people know the merge is coming and the second lane is coming to an end,” he said.

Although UDOT officials presented six different road designs at the meeting, they said the configuration locals want — a $55.6 million plan known as Alternative 5 — is likely a non-starter, given that it would impact two additional acres of wetlands.

Saunders said the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency are unlikely to approve Alternative 5, because UDOT’s choice — a $49.7 million proposal called Alternative 6E — meets the requirements for the road and conserves more wetlands.

That logic bothered Buttars.

“It totally goes against my thinking and common sense that we would let two acres of wetlands determine the safety of the citizens who use this road,” he said during the meeting.

UDOT will open a 30 day comment period in the next few weeks for the public to voice opinions on the new road development.