‘We only have so many routes;’ State, Wasatch County, city officials discuss future of Heber Valley roads
Heber City, Midway and state government officials met with the Wasatch County Council about the proposal to build a bypass road through the Heber Valley. They discussed steps to take in the near future to support the project, which could take a decade or more to complete.
Utah Department of Transportation Commissioner and former Utah Senator Kevin Van Tassell said now is a crucial time for local governments to give input into plans to manage traffic in downtown Heber, and the more unified they are, the better.
“My recommendation is, I would put everything on the table and come up with something that's going to work to give you some immediate relief and then work towards the long-term solution,” he said.
His comments came during a meeting of the Wasatch County Council last week. Van Tassell said UDOT’s project funding is already accounted for through 2028. Unless a lobbyist to the legislature helps bump the Heber Valley project up on the priority list, he said the delay between completing the ongoing study and beginning construction could take as long as 10 years.
UDOT project manager Craig Hancock said that by May, UDOT plans to shrink its list of traffic-mitigation ideas on Heber City Main Street from 13 down to just a few.
Councilmember Marilyn Crittenden said while there may not be a perfect solution, there must be a reasonable one, and she wanted the council to be ready to respond to a 30-day public comment period at the end of May.
Heber City Mayor Heidi Franco asked the UDOT representatives to make that a 60- or 90-day period instead. She said that would give local government more time to become unified in support of what could be a complicated solution.
“I appreciate what Senator Van Tassell said: We need to get immediate relief now,” Franco said. “We need to work towards a long-term solution. We will need a bypass road as well as our Main Street to carry a lot of traffic. So, as much as it's wonderful to say ‘let's have a walkable downtown’ and so forth, we only have so many routes in and out of our valley.”
UDOT’s proposals include bypass routes west and east of the downtown, as well as changes to how traffic flows through the city. Some of those ideas include rerouting traffic through what are currently neighborhood roads and eliminating street parking to add more lanes.
Many Heber Valley residents have come out in opposition to a proposal for a western bypass that would travel through the length of the North Fields. That’s an area of thousands of acres of open space west of Highway 40 between Heber City, Midway and the northern entrance to the Heber Valley.
Representing the Wasatch County Open Lands Board, Tracy Taylor said that proposal interferes with the board’s goal to conserve open space there. For that reason, she advocated for that alternative to be taken out of consideration by next month.
As Utah Open Lands Executive Director Wendy Fisher told the council, conservation groups struggle to get funding approved for easements where there’s a looming possibility that a road could be built.
“One of the first things I learned when I came as a senator: They said as you work through this, leave the North Fields alone,” Van Tassell said. “That's our signature coming in. I don't know if that's available. It'll make a big change in the valley. It will be about the last that I've seen of your open space that’s available.”
In the wake of the meeting, a petition to remove the bypass option through the North Fields gained over 400 signatures.
Other western bypass alternatives propose building a road around Heber City that reconnects to Highway 40 just north of town, rather than miles farther down the road at the entrance to the valley.