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Today's word on journalism

January 13, 2009

Breakneck:

"I get the feeling that the 24-hour news networks are like the bus in the movie 'Speed.' If they stop talking for a second, they think they'll blow up."

--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 2008 (Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin)

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Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Growth brings highway congestion -- 'a UDOT issue' -- to Providence

By G. Christopher Terry

December 14, 2008 | PROVIDENCE -- Folks in Providence see different things when they look at the stretch of SR-165 that passes through their city, from Macey's grocery and fuel supercenter to the brand-new Zions Bank branch.

Mayor Randy Simmons sees a stretch of valuable real estate prime for development, and a resulting influx of sales tax money from the bustling retail zone, which, for now, exists only in his head.

Restaurateur Jeremy Jones sees a shopping destination for the valley's residents, replete with retailers and eateries which will draw traffic to Providence's burgeoning downtown and boost walk-in sales at Iron Gate Grille, one of the first businesses to locate in Providence.

Doctor Laura Fisher sees a death trap, a dangerous stretch of highway "that's going to kill people" as more and more cars turn in and out of businesses and try to merge with speeding traffic.

This fall, Simmons and the City Council conceded to enter into a cooperative corridor agreement with neighboring communities Logan, Nibley, Millville and Hyrum, as well as Cache County and the Utah Department of Transportation. The agreement, available for downloading at http://www.cachempo.org/hwy165/Cooperative_Agreement-9-4-08.doc, contains the rather broad mandate to "facilitate traffic flow along SR-165" through those communities. As part of the agreement, UDOT assigned the highway a federal highway classification of four, which allows for commercial access to the road every 500 feet. After the council initially signed the agreement to make their stretch of highway a level four road, Utah State Representative and Providence resident Curt Webb used back channels to convince UDOT to reclassify SR-165 in Providence as a level five road, which allows for commercial access every 350 feet, and lowers the speed limit from 55 to 45 mph. <> Jones, seeing the potential to increase business at his restaurant, said of the increased access, "they need to do it for sure."

However, that comment was immediately followed up with, "do they plan to increase the number of stop lights?"

And there's the rub.

According to the cooperative corridor agreement, which lists future sites of traffic signals going from Providence to Hyrum, traffic signals will only be built once certain traffic benchmarks, called "minimum traffic signal warrants" in the CCA, are met. Locations are also subject to field review by UDOT before any new signal will go up.

The new light can't come soon enough for Jill Nelson, branch manager at Zion's. Nelson says she uses the intersection of SR-165 and 1700 South, which is an approved future site for a traffic signal, to get to work, and calls it "kind of a scary corner."

Dr. Fisher has been a fierce critic of Simmons' plans to develop Providence since the mayor took office in 2005. Never mind what SR-165 in Providence will look like when it is fully developed; to Fisher, the sprawling Macey's complex, a recent addition to the corner of SR-165 and 100 North, is bad enough.

"The access [to Macey's] should not be right off of the high-speed road out there. My opinion would be that it's definitely going to have a human cost," Fisher says.

"The Macey's deal was a low-bid production in that they should have had all kinds of safety increasing access roads so that people, instead of turning right off this road into the big shopping area, would've had to slow down and make other arrangements and go in on the Providence east-west street which is 100 North," she continued. "They just wanted to let them do the cheapest possible, excremental if you will, looking thing."

For Simmons, the (for now) largely hypothetical retail zone along SR-165 represents dollars he needs to continue providing a high level of service to his constituents without raising a property tax rate he calls one of the lowest in the county. (Fisher has a bone to pick with this as well, as she says Simmons has had her home and others in Providence reassessed at far above their real market value, so that she is paying more than ever in property taxes despite the real estate market crashing nationwide.)

Pointing out that North Logan pulls in $1.8 million in total sales tax revenue annually, much more than Providence, Simmons says, "the fact that they have Wal-Mart and K-Mart and Kohl's and everything along the side of the street there is a pretty big deal. We won't have nearly that distance of commercial development but we can have substantially more than we currently have."

If Providence city is indeed, as Fisher says, getting the cart in front of the horse by encouraging development along SR-165 before additional traffic signals are installed, Simmons lays the problem at UDOT's feet. "You're not going to attract any businesses if you can't have any access. The access is the horse, and then businesses will come. If you could put in a light, it would attract more businesses but what we have to do is attract the businesses and increase the traffic in order for them to put in the light. That's the case where I do think we have the cart before the horse but that's a UDOT issue, not our choice. Our only choice is to increase traffic."

Jones, who bet early on the potential of a Providence retail district, says "there's no way that they can help a business owner without giving them access." For Jones, it may or not be the right thing to move businesses into the fields along SR-165, but having decided that it wants to follow that course, the city is now bound to help out those like himself, who have bet their livelihoods on the success of their business. "Either do it or don't," Jones says, "But if you do it, do it right."

Simmons insists that "when we get this all pulled off it will really be a major benefit," and will never look like Logan's section of SR-165, the congested north Main Street with commercial access points inside of 100 feet of another. North Main in Logan and North Logan was overdeveloped with accesses all willy-nilly because, Simmons says, it was developed before current UDOT regulations came into effect.

"The access into Macey's is 400 feet from the light, so there will not be another access between the light and that access on the east side of the road," Simmons says. "So it's not that we are talking about filling it up the way the road is between Logan and Smithfield. That's not what is going to happen here. We don't want anything closer than 350 precisely because we want to be a corridor that moves traffic but also allows people to have access to businesses and 350 feet is a good compromise."

Whether the area becomes the scrap metal alley of Fisher's imagination or the thriving yet safe shopping destination of Simmons', it's clear that Hyrum residents driving into Logan will need to leave earlier to reach their destination on time. Simmons says there are no alternate high-speed routes for north-south traffic.

"People want the best of everything," Jones says. "You used to be able to go from Logan to Preston in 30 minutes and you can't do that anymore."

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