Shortly after Jared Hamner became the executive director of the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce, safety and economic reasons prompted him to join the crusade to get the midvalley highway built through Tooele Valley.
“The midvalley highway has been talked about longer than I have been alive,” he said. “We need this and we need it now.”
With a tentative route that connects to Interstate 80 west of Lake Point and joins State Route 36 south of the Tooele County Detention Facility, Hamner’s hope is that the midvalley highway will save lives and open a transportation corridor that will allow vacant industrial property to blossom.
According to Hamner, the midvalley highway would take a lot of commercial truck traffic off of Tooele’s Main Street. Commuters from Erda, Grantsville, and south Tooele could also use the midvalley highway, reducing congestion on SR-36.
“SR-36 from Lake Point to Tooele, with 1,400 vehicles per hour, is at capacity,” he said. “Businesses are reluctant to add additional traffic to SR-36 because of its safety record and congestion.”
“In the last five years there have been 1,006 accidents, 220 injuries, and two fatalities on SR-36 just in Tooele City,” he added. “That doesn’t include anything north of the city limits.”
The midvalley highway is also essential if Tooele County wants to attract new business, according to Hamner.
“Many businesses don’t want to be more than 10 miles from I-80,” he said. “The Ninigret and Peterson Industrial Depot are 15 miles from I-80 right now.”
Hamner has been leading periodic meetings with city, county, and state elected officials, along with representatives of local businesses, the Utah Department of Transportation, and the Wasatch Front Regional Council, to discuss progress on the midvalley highway.
Hamner has also testified in meetings held by the Utah State Transportation Commission and at state legislative committee meetings.
“The midvalley highway was so far back on everyone’s timetable, the first time I met with a UDOT official, I was told that they had never heard of the project before,” he said.
At a chamber midvalley highway committee meeting last Friday, Hamner passed the midvalley highway baton to Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne. The commissioner said the highway is a county project, and the county will take the lead.
Tooele County joined with UDOT and the Federal Highway Administration in 2007 to start an environmental impact study on proposed route for the midvalley highway. Four years and $4 million later, the study was completed.
The EIS recommended a route for the midvalley highway that leaves Interstate 80 at a new interchange near mile post 94 and heads northwest until it meets State Route 138 just west of Sheep Lane.
At SR-138 the midvalley highway turns northeast and crosses Erda Lane and Sheep Lane before it intersects Utah Avenue east of the Ninigret and Peterson Industrial Depot. From SR-112 the midvalley highway will run south and then turn southeast to connect with SR-36 just outside the Tooele City limits.
From I-80 to SR-112 the road design for the midvalley highway calls for a freeway with interchanges at SR-138, a future east-west collection route south of Erda Way, and at 1000 North. From SR-112 to SR-36 the design calls for a surface highway.
Government, education, military and business leaders gathered at Tooele Applied Technology College for an economic development summit last July and reached a consensus to support, in general, the EIS recommended route for the midvalley highway, at least from I-80 to SR-112.
“The actual route may vary a little as we get closer to construction and acquire property,” said Milne.
The proposed route for the midvalley highway south of SR-112 runs through Tooele City’s educational corridor, including property occupied by Utah State University.
“The highway will be built in phases,” Hamner said. “There’s no reason why we can’t start the project while discussing the route of the final segment.”
With the EIS set to expire this year, Tooele County is in process of acquiring land between I-80 and SR-138 from a private property owner. The land acquisition will extend the expiration of the EIS, according to Milne.
The commissioner declined to identify the property owner, pending completion of negotiations for the purchase. The county will use funds from the corridor preservation fund to buy the property.
Tooele County Commissioners added a $10 fee to all on-road vehicle registrations in Tooele County in 2009. The money goes into the corridor preservation fund and may only be spent to buy property for transportation projects approved by the county’s Council of Governments.
There currently is $2.5 million in the corridor preservation fund, according to Milne.
Although the county is acquiring property to build the first phase of the midvalley highway, which will run from I-80 to Sheep Lane, there is no funding to begin construction.
The entire project from I-80 to SR-36 is projected to have a price tag in excess of $400 million. The full cost for the first phase is estimated at $100 million.
“All transportation funds through 2018 have been committed,” said Lisa Zundel, UDOT region two project manager. “The earliest funding could be made available is 2019 with construction starting in 2020.”
“Even then,” Zundel asked, “What is the higher priority, the midvalley highway or improvements to SR-36 and SR-138?”
Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, was not pleased with the implication that building the midvalley highway and making SR-36 safer may have to wait another six years.
“The need for an alternate route west of Tooele City was discussed when I was mayor of Tooele City over 40 years ago,” he said. “We can’t forgo the problems we have now. We’ve got to have something now — not in six or seven years. To do nothing is unacceptable.”