Saturday , April 15, 2017 - 5:00 AM
FRUIT HEIGHTS — Plans to upgrade busy U.S. 89 in Fruit Heights are spurring intense debate in the small Davis County city.
Mayor Don Carroll just hopes the differences don’t create a rift among neighbors.
Around 50 gathered Thursday at City Hall to discuss the issue — more particularly, proposed changes to the U.S. 89-Nicholls Road intersection in the middle of the city — and emotions flared at times, with opinions running the gamut. Carroll, though, emphasized the connections among Fruit Heights residents, whatever their opinion.
“We know you, we see you at the store,” he said.
And whatever happens at the crossing, he added, all will feel it given Fruit Heights’ small size. “It affects us just like it affects you guys,” he said.
The Utah Department of Transportation earlier this year unveiled plans to build an overpass that would haul U.S. 89 vehicles over Nicholls Road, streamlining traffic flow and minimizing the potential for accidents at the crossing, a big worry for many. Nicholls Road would no longer connect to U.S. 89, the major north-south arterial in Weber and Davis counties that cuts Fruit Heights in half. But Nicholls motorists would still be able to travel under the overpass between the eastern and western sides of the city.
Maintaining that east-west traffic flow via Nicholls, Carroll said, has long been a priority of Fruit Heights leaders, long before his tenure, even. Blocking off Nicholls on either side of U.S. 89, as proposed as an alternative, would hamper the ability of those in eastern Fruit Heights to get around. It could even pose a safety risk.
Still, the $15 million UDOT proposal, crafted with input from Fruit Heights leaders, has generated a strong backlash among many, and that came out Thursday. Among the worries for residents like Jeanne Groberg is the potentially adverse impact the 25-foot high overpass would have to nearby homes that would sit in its shadow — reduced property values, marred views and more.
Particularly irksome is the notion that those living near the crossing, potentially most affected, must quietly accept the change as the price of progress. “It’s a kick in the teeth to us to say you have to do this for the greater good,” said Groberg, who’s involved in a grassroots group formed in response to the plans, Finer Fruit Heights.
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UDOT, in response, has delayed the launch of construction at the intersection, originally to have started in June. It will take another look at the varied remedies to improve traffic flow at the U.S. 89-Nicholls Road crossing, likely issuing a new report in late June. UDOT officials will also fold plans for the intersection into a broader $275 million upgrade proposal for U.S. 89 between Farmington and South Weber, meant to keep up with growing traffic on the roadway.
The safety considerations
For Carroll and other city leaders, the UDOT plan put forward earlier this year has plenty going for it.
Some critics have suggested closing Nicholls Road on either side of U.S. 89 so the proposed overpass structure wouldn’t have to be built. But eastern Fruit Heights is hemmed in by mountains to the east and U.S. 89 to the west, limiting access to the zone and underscoring the importance, in city officials’ view, of keeping Nicholls Road open, per the original UDOT plan.
Without access to Nicholls, eastern Fruit City motorists would potentially have to drive to the northern or southern ends of the city to get to western Fruit Heights. That, officials fear, would make it tougher to get around, Perhaps more significantly, it could limit the ability of residents to evacuate the zone in the event of a fire, earthquake or other emergency.
Keeping Nicholls Road open helps maintain response times by law enforcement and fire officials to eastern Fruit Heights, proponents say. What’s more, keeping the road open serves to spread traffic out among the varied entry and exit points to eastern Fruit Heights, minimizing auto congestion, particularly important if residential and commercial development continues in the area.
Another key consideration, Carroll notes, is money. The plan, as put forward by UDOT, would require no relocations of property owners, keeping project costs down.
“An overpass, to me, makes a lot of sense,” said Dale Kunkel, one of the residents who spoke Thursday. Aside from transit issues, he noted the dangers Nicholls Road motorists can currently face from the many U.S. 89 drivers who run yellow and red lights, a problem that would be eliminated with the overpass.
Critics of the UDOT plan don’t doubt the merits of keeping Nicholls Road open. They just think more thought can be given to the issue.
City officials, Jeremy Canter thinks, could put more pressure on UDOT, make them come up with a better alternative. He helps lead the Finer Fruit Heights group.
Canter and others hinted at the notion of building on- and off-ramps at the Nicholls-U.S. 89 intersection, assuring continued access between the two roads while reducing the potential for car crashes. That could necessitate the acquisition and demolition of numerous nearby homes — a huge potential cost — but Canter thinks that might be a better solution.
Removing nearby homes could also address the worries of those who might otherwise have an overpass structure looming in their backyards.
“It’s stewardship for the long-term,” Canter said.
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