ST. GEORGE- The St. George City Council received an update Thursday on the status of the 700 South Interchange project proposed by the Utah Department of Transportation. Due to the number of public comments received on the draft, UDOT officials announced that an additional public comment meeting would be held over the summer.
The UDOT announced earlier this year that it was considering building an interchange on I-15 that connects to 700 South in downtown St. George. The rationale behind building the interchange at this location is to help alleviate current and future congestion at nearby interchanges at Dixie Drive/Exit 6 and St. George Boulevard/Exit 8.
According to data from UDOT, congestion at the interchanges of exits 6 and 8 is expected to increase by 20% by 2050 if nothing is done to solve the problem beforehand.
Before anything can be built, an environmental assessment must be carried out to determine the feasibility of the proposed interchange and its impact on the area around it. Part of the process involves a period of framing. It is a time when the public is invited to express their thoughts on the project and why it is or is not a good idea and to share points that the planners might have missed.
The project scoping period originally ran from April 18 to May 17. During this period, an online meeting was held on May 3, followed by an in-person open house the following day. A website detailing the proposed project also offered information and a place to submit comments online in addition to email.
Ryan Anderson, a project manager for UDOT, told council they received nearly 250 comments from residents and others living and working in the project study area. The number is among the highest they have ever received for such a project, he said.
The UDOT received a total of 247 public comments in meetings and online, many of which were substantive and offered various suggestions and alternatives, Anderson said. Only a handful of comments received were along the lines of “this is a bad idea” without explaining why, he said.
“We felt encouraged by the feedback we received,” Anderson said.
Residents and other stakeholders in the area around the proposed 700 South interchange spoke about vehicular traffic issues, the need to improve active transportation routes in the area, right-of-way concerns ( whose homes or businesses might be taken), as well as a desire for better connectivity between the east and west sides of St. George while preserving as much of the character of the neighborhood as possible.
According to the project’s original schedule, the environmental assessment, which will include alternatives for the interchange and surrounding area, was to be released later this year. However, due to the volume of comments and the problems and alternatives that accompanied them, the process is pushed back three to four months.
Anderson told the board this was being done in order to hold a second in-person open house that will showcase proposed alternative designs for the project for the public to review and comment on before a preferred alternative is chosen.
The next project open day is scheduled for mid-August.
Holding the additional meeting is a rare move on the part of UDOT, Anderson said, and added that UDOT wants the public to participate in shaping what’s to come because of the strong interest the community has demonstrated so far.
“We want this (process) to be as transparent as possible,” he said. “We are not here to impose anything on anyone.”
St. George News will report on the time and location of the next meeting once UDOT announces it.
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