If man can build a tunnel under the English Channel to connect England with France, then a tunnel can be made through the Oquirrh Mountains to provide a new transportation corridor between Tooele and Salt Lake counties.
Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall wants to find out if such a project is possible.
He invited representatives of the Wasatch Front Regional Council to a meeting Monday morning with Tooele County’s elected government leaders to discuss an alternate connection between Tooele and Salt Lake counties and to fund a study to see if it can be done.
“When I meet with Tooele City Mayor Pat Dunlavy and the county commissioners, we often talk about the need for an alternate route in and out of Salt Lake Valley,” Marshall said. “A tunnel is not a new idea. It has been talked about before.”
Marshall, who represents all of Tooele County on the WFRC board, recalled a fire near the Great Salt Lake Marina last year that closed down Interstate 80.
“People were trapped on I-80, some turned around and made the two-hour trip back through Salt Lake and came into Tooele through the south end of the county,” he said. “We need an alternative route in and out of the county.”
The proposal would not replace the need for a mid-valley highway, he said.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville said the idea of a tunnel to connect the two counties sounded familiar.
“It’s kind of nostalgic,” he said. “I recall Karl Swan suggested a tunnel connecting the counties when he served in the Senate.”
Swan represented Tooele County in the state Senate from 1971 to 1990.
Marshall also recalled earlier discussions of a tunnel through the Oquirrhs that dated back to the 1970s or 1980s.
The Wasatch Front Regional Council, which is a long term transportation organization consisting of the governments in Tooele, Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Box Elder and Morgan counties, has considered regional connections between counties, said Andrew Gruber, executive director of the WFRC.
“A connection between Salt Lake and Tooele counties has been on our radar but not in our plans for some time,” he said. “A tunnel might sound ambitious, but we support getting the relevant parties together and looking at alternatives. It is time to consider the costs and implications for economic development, safety, and security.”
Marshall suggested a tunnel may have some advantages over an overland route through the canyons.
“A tunnel would be a straight drive through the mountain and it would be easier to keep open during the winter,” he said. “We just don’t know a lot, that’s why we need to do a feasibility study. We need to find out if it is even possible to build a tunnel through the Oquirrh Mountains or maybe we go north of the Kennecott mine instead or south of it.”
It may be too late to secure funding for a feasibility study in this session, which ends March 13, said Rep. Nelson and Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele.
Whatever the route — north or south, over or under — the connection takes, Marshall is convinced that a second route to Salt Lake Valley will be needed for future generations.
“This will not be done during my life time,” he said. “And probably not for my kids, but my grandkids? … maybe.”