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Proposals for US 40 western bypass route in Heber Valley come into focus as UDOT study continues

Last October, UDOT announced it would consider 13 "alternatives," or proposals of projects to reduce traffic on Heber City Main Street, including these routes that would reroute highway traffic east or west of downtown Heber.

As the Utah Department of Transportation weighs how to reroute highway traffic off Heber City Main Street, opinions are mixed about several proposals. That’s especially true of one design that would build a road through the Heber Valley North Fields, a large expanse of undeveloped farmlands.

Hundreds of responses to surveys by Heber City and UDOT suggested Heber Valley residents support building a western bypass road. By and large, they called that the best way to relieve Heber Main Street of traffic from U.S. Highway 40 and State Route 189, since an eastern route would pass through neighborhoods.

But that begs another question: Which western bypass design should UDOT choose?

As the community awaits UDOT’s next announcement in late May or June, residents like Dan Simmons have been speaking out against building a road that would travel the length of the North Fields. The North Fields are thousands of acres of open space west of Highway 40 between Heber City, Midway and the northern entrance to the Heber Valley.

Simmons, one of the founders of the Friends of Heber Valley nonprofit, said given negative impacts to the area’s natural beauty and environmental hazards the road would cause there, he was surprised UDOT would even consider it.

“We, like everybody else in this valley, were blindsided in October when a new highway option was presented,” Simmons said. “This was for a four-lane highway with intersections in the North Fields. That would go the entire length of the North Fields.”

While some in Wasatch County support building a road through the North Fields to decrease Main Street traffic congestion, others say the move would tarnish the Heber Valley's "crown jewel."
Ben Lasseter
While some in Wasatch County support building a road through the North Fields to decrease Main Street traffic congestion, others say the move would tarnish the Heber Valley's "crown jewel."

Simmons said he shared the concern with many in the Friends of Heber Valley group, which exists in part to support what it considers elements of community heritage like the North Fields. Of the 13 initial proposals UDOT released in October, Simmons said he supports a bypass road that connects to Highway 40 slightly north of Heber City, leaving most of the North Fields uninterrupted.

In June of 2021, Heber City architect Lane Lythgoe posted on Facebook a western bypass proposal that his firm designed, the same one that Simmons came to disagree with, along with a letter he sent to UDOT advocating the agency to consider it as an option.

In that letter, Lythgoe said the design was the best option because it plans for long-term traffic efficiency, while other proposals would create more traffic problems in the years to come. The letter also claims that the mayor’s office and city council members contributed to that design.

Simmons said he was troubled to learn that UDOT decided to consider that alternative under the name “Western D.”

“I’m very concerned about the lack of transparency on this issue because of the huge and devastating, permanent impact this is going to have on the North Fields and all of Heber Valley,” Simmons said.

UDOT alone will make the final decision about the potential bypass after several more phases of the study.

Heber City Manager Matt Brower and other local government officials said they’ve appreciated UDOT’s efforts to get their input. UDOT project manager Craig Hancock said their recommendations carry significant weight because local governments are “primary stakeholders” in the final outcome.

According to Wasatch County Manager Dustin Grabau, the county already owns about 70% of the land that would be required to build a road around Heber City but not all the way through the North Fields.

According to Wasatch County Councilor Kendall Crittenden, the county and city came up with that design together. He said with some tweaks, three of the options UDOT proposed are close enough to that design that he preferred them. It’s also similar to what Simmons described as his preference.

Like Simmons, Crittenden said he was also surprised to learn UDOT was considering the route through the North Fields.

“It's been discovered that some local people and two or three of our current city council have kind of been pushing that in the background,” Crittenden told KPCW. “To my knowledge, they've never admitted it publicly that those are their preferred routes, but they've submitted comments on the [Heber Valley Corridor environmental impact study] comment page last fall to tell them how desirable WD is, Western D. In my opinion, WD would be an absolute disaster for the North Fields.”

Crittenden said one of his issues with the proposal was that it would open the door to further development along the road in the North Fields.

Heber City Councilor Scott Phillips, who took his seat on the council in January, said he supported the Western D option. Although he called the impact to the North Fields a downside, he said it’s the best way to ensure the road will do its job of improving local traffic for the long term.

“I do feel bad for Heber City residents who live on that border of town that have the open fields behind their homes,” Phillips said. “But I really think that we could beautify [the bypass road], and it potentially could be better than something else that would be built behind them. If we do this now and do it right, we can make it a parkway, we can have space, we can have trails, we can have trees. We need to do it now before it's too late and we have to force it in somewhere else.”

In late May or early June, UDOT is expected to narrow down its options and announce to the community which ideas are still being considered. A final plan isn’t expected until 2023, when UDOT has said it will complete the study.

For more on the study, visit hebervalleyeis.udot.utah.gov.

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