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Current traffic counts or future economic development?

Council questions I-84 interchange funding guidelines

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While some county officials are pushing for a full Interstate 84 interchange in Mountain Green, others are left scratching their heads.

It is a chicken-egg dilemma: Citing current traffic counts, the interchange is just not yet warranted. However, considering massive development plans in the area, transportation officials should be planning for the future.
Both are correct. The problem, however, is funding is currently determined by traffic counts, not future economic development plans, said Morgan County Councilman Ned Mecham.

UDOT Region 1 Director Kris Peterson, UDOT Senior Planner Nathan Lee and Gov. Gary Herbert have all recently indicated that any state money will spent on moving traffic, not accommodating economic development, Mecham said.
“Everything UDOT does is to move traffic, not for economic development,” Mecham said. “That could change with the governor and legislature.”

And that is exactly what fellow council members John Barber and Tina Cannon have been pulling for.

UDOT can’t change the guidelines used to determine interchange funding, but the Utah Transportation Commission, an advisory committee within the State of Utah, can, Cannon said. That and the Wasatch Front Regional Council’s Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force is where she and Barber have been focusing their recent efforts. “If it is up to Kris Peterson and UDOT officials, their hands are tied,” Cannon said, but she believes there has been movement on using a different set of parameters.

According to numbers UDOT collected in 2015, some 20,700 vehicles travel through Weber Canyon via Interstate 84 daily. Of those, almost 8,000 vehicles exit at Mountain Green, and about 3,100 make their way up State Route 167, better known as Trappers Loop.

At this point, those numbers are not enough to warrant immediate construction of a full I-84 interchange in Mountain Green, Mecham said.

UDOT projections do have both east- and westbound traffic on I-84 continuously increasing in coming years, with westbound daily volume projected at nearly 35,000 and eastbound at almost 25,000 by 2040. UDOT notes that volume growth is being driven by Mountain Green rather than Morgan City and other points east.

Old Highway is also projected to get more traffic. From I-84 to Trappers Loop, traffic volumes have dramatically increased since 1995 and are projected to climb from over 7,000 daily vehicles in 2015 to over 9,000 by 2040.
To handle this increase, UDOT is considering widening Old Highway from the existing Mountain Green exit to Trappers Loop into four lanes. That plan, as well as a new full interchange, is in phase three of Utah’s Statewide Long-Range Plan Projects (SWLRP), meaning funding could be several years out.

“A full interchange is on the radar, but nothing has been funded,” Mecham said. “This is just a heads up.” Phase one ends about 2020 and includes projects that are funded. Phase two are projects in planning and design waiting for funding to become available, he said. Phase three projects stay there until something happens to move them forward, such as increased traffic counts or new funding.

Volume growth on Old Highway is being driven by Mountain Green rather than Snowbasin or Ogden Valley, UDOT notes, since traffic volumes at Snowbasin in 2015 were barely over 3,000 and projected to hit 4,000 by 2040.
However, Snowbasin has plans for future expansion including recreation, retail and housing. And Mountain Green has development agreements in place that could bring more retail and residential housing.

Newer to the game is Wasatch Peaks, with purchase offers being made that could make way for development on more than 12,000 acres of mountain slopes near Peterson. Mecham said 10,000 units are being proposed.

UDOT and Morgan County officials are aware of planned growth in Mountain Green, Snowbasin and Wasatch Peaks, but those plans haven’t brought traffic to levels that would spur UDOT to take quicker action.

Yet. UDOT is watching.

Projections have Morgan County being the fastest growing county in the state in the next three to four decades, potentially doubling in population. With impending development, UDOT predicts that growth by 2040 could result in 4,000 more households and 4,760 new jobs in Mountain Green; 1,700 more households and 1,450 new jobs in Snowbasin; and 1,390 more households and 770 new jobs in the Ogden Valley.

With that growth, as many as 48,000 vehicles could be traveling on I-84 through Weber Canyon in 2040, more than doubling 2015 traffic. Of those, some 19,000 vehicles will be travelling Old Highway between the existing interchange and Trappers Loop in 2040 if the current interchange is still in use. Of those 19,000 on Old Highway, some 10,200 would turn off and continue up Trappers Loop. That would mean more than triple the traffic count on Trappers Loop compared to 2015.

To handle these projections, UDOT is analyzing three options in the Mountain Green area including continued use of the existing interchange, a new full interchange, or a mix of both. If a new full interchange is constructed, it could mean closure of the current interchange and dead-ending of Old Highway Road on the western side.
Using the existing interchange, widening Old Highway up to Trappers Loop to four lanes, and widening Trappers Loop to consistently three lanes (with two in the uphill direction), would lead to 2040 daily projected traffic volume levels that are just not too much cause for concern, Mecham said. The heaviest traffic with these options would be ranked at 4/C.

Putting in a new full interchange would likewise lead to the heaviest traffic counts ranking at 4C. “’C’ is good traffic, tolerable. Everything works great. ‘B’ is spectacular, very good,” Mecham said. “Mountain Road (Highway 89 in Davis County) is now a ‘D’” and scheduled for massive overhauls. If traffic counts go over a ‘C,’ UDOT may consider adding an extra lane to I-84 in Weber Canyon, Mecham said.

In the meantime, UDOT has pledged to spend $100,000 on a transportation study in Mountain Green. Mecham said the study should begin this spring and could take a year to complete. That study would contemplate options including a full interchange and widening of Old Highway. Public input should be part of the process, Cannon said. Cannon also noted that UDOT is planning on purchasing land in Mountain Green for a right of way that could make way for a full interchange.

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