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UDOT: Need for Heber bypass is clear, timeline is not

Trucks head north on Heber City's Main Street.
Grace Doerfler / KPCW
Trucks head north on Heber City's Main Street.

Heber residents and business owners gathered to discuss the western bypass with representatives from the Utah Department of Transportation Thursday, March 28.

About 30 members of the Community Alliance for Main Street came together to hear the latest from UDOT about Heber bypass plans and share feedback with the agency.

The western bypass road has been in the works for decades. It’s intended to pull highway traffic, especially semi-trucks, away from Heber’s Main Street.

Craig Hancock, UDOT’s project manager for the region, said travel time in some areas could more than double by 2050 if no bypass is built.

Without intervention, drive times along the roughly five-mile stretch between River Road and the junction of US 40 and US 189 could increase to almost 20 minutes, and congestion could multiply.

“We used 500 North as our study point for this particular measure,” he said. “If you’re seeing about 375 feet of queuing at that intersection… we see that growing to about 13,100 [feet], which is a pretty big number – almost 2.5 miles of queuing at that intersection.”

He showed residents what traffic would be like with each of the five possible bypass routes UDOT is considering: three intersect with U.S. 40 just north of downtown, and two go through the North Fields to intersect at River Road.

“There is one kind of big caveat to that: the data that we use comes from what we call our travel demand model,” he said. “This is a model that’s developed by MAG.”

That’s the Mountainlands Association of Governments, a regional planning organization.

Hancock said UDOT can’t move forward until MAG makes significant updates to its traffic study. Once those changes are released later this spring, UDOT will look at the updated route possibilities and likely make some adjustments, especially to the routes that reconnect with U.S. 40 farther south.

UDOT released five options in June 2022, and locals previously expected to hear a final decision this spring. But now, UDOT said it can’t promise an announcement this year.

Heber resident Rachel Kahler asked regional communications director Wyatt Woolley about the timeline.

“But will UDOT provide a recommended route by the end of the year?” she asked.

“I can’t commit to that,” he said. “What I will say is this: as soon as we know that we have a direction, we know where we’re going, we will get that information out to the community as quick as we can.”

UDOT also needs to assess the impact of a large swath of the North Fields approved for a conservation easement earlier in March. Hancock said the department doesn’t yet have answers about how UDOT’s plans will be affected by federal funding used for the easement.

Mike Johnston, a Heber City councilmember who also owns a business on Main Street, expressed frustration with how long the process is taking.

“Can we get a schedule of when we’re going to figure out those answers?” he asked. “Because we can’t kick all of these questions down the road forever. It’s becoming time-critical.”

When pressed on the timeline, Woolley gave residents a five- to 10-year estimate for when the bypass could be complete.

“Best case scenario, right about five [years], I would say, and I’m just throwing this out there,” he said. “I’d say worst case is right before the Olympics.”

Hancock said the Heber Valley bypass road is among UDOT’s list of top priorities as it plans for an anticipated 2034 Olympic games.

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