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Heber Valley officials, UDOT leadership discuss bypass

Land in the Heber Valley North Fields pastures is eligible for county protections, amid a study by the Utah Department of Transportation to build a road through the space. The county council will discuss those options for protections Wednesday.
Ben Lasseter
The Heber Valley North Fields extend from downtown Heber City to the mouth of the valley, where River Road intersects with U.S. Highway 40. As the state plans a potential highway bypass road to alleviate traffic from Heber Main Street, some residents oppose any construction on what they call the valley's "crown jewel."

In the midst of studies about how a highway bypass road would impact the Heber Valley, the head of state transportation met with local government and heard differing opinions about the project.

On February 27, Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director Carlos Braceras held a meeting about the study to build a highway bypass around downtown Heber City. He invited Heber Mayor Heidi Franco, Wasatch County Council Chair Spencer Park and Heber City Councilman Ryan Stack.

According to UDOT project manager Craig Hancock, the point of the meeting was to check in with local governments to find out if they supported the ongoing study process.

Hancock has overseen that study of how to address traffic on U.S. Highway 40, which doubles as Heber Main Street. Hancock wasn’t at the meeting but said Braceras told him one takeaway was that no one objected to the study itself.

“There really wasn't much of a debrief, really,” Hancock said. “The big takeaway was that everybody who was in that meeting expressed the desire to continue.”

Heber Mayor Heidi Franco told KPCW while it’s true they agreed the study should continue, she and the others representing local governments had much more to say.

She said she and Park urged UDOT not to build a road from the edge of Heber City all the way to River Road, which would pass through thousands of acres of pastures known as the North Fields.

She listed potential impacts to wetlands, farms and the Provo River as problems with a road in the North Fields.

UDOT is reviewing five routes for a U.S. Highway 40 bypass around Heber City. Two of those, pictured right and labeled WB-3 in orange and WB-4 in blue, have drawn the ire of residents who say they would damage one of the Heber Valley's cherished open-space areas.
UDOT is reviewing five routes for a U.S. Highway 40 bypass around Heber City. Two of those, pictured right and labeled WB-3 in orange and WB-4 in blue, have drawn the ire of residents who say they would damage one of the Heber Valley's cherished open-space areas.

Franco said she urged UDOT to go with one of the other options that resemble a design the county has worked on since the late 2000s. That would route the road back into Highway 40 just north of downtown.

Stack said he and several other Heber City Council members disagree. He said although he doesn’t want negative environmental impacts, a road that would extend to River Road is the best way to handle traffic.

“As we move forward, we're not just planning for Heber Valley today, tomorrow or five years from now,” Stack said. “We need to be thinking and making these big decisions for 20, 30, 40 years out. When you look at what's happening with the growth around the Jordanelle, when you look at the North Village, as well as all of the overall population growth trends projected for Utah as a whole, we have to be thinking long-term about connectivity and our road network here.”

Between the developments Stack referenced along Highway 40, thousands of homes are either approved or pending for construction. However, he said he wouldn’t support development around a bypass in the North Fields and doubted the Wasatch County Council would in the future either, as the entity in charge of that land.

Stack also challenged the notion that a majority of local residents oppose the road through the North Fields, saying he’s heard a wide variety of opinions.

He also said in the upcoming council meeting Tuesday, he may propose a resolution in support of the design to build a parkway through the North Fields.

Park did not respond to KPCW’s request for comment.

Hancock also said he’s heard a range of opinions, especially during public comment periods he’s administered. However, he said Braceras didn’t share details about the preferences Franco, Park and Stack expressed at the late February meeting.

UDOT won’t release the design it favors until late this summer. Between now and then, Hancock said his team will study how different designs could impact socioeconomic factors, traffic efficiency, noise and water in the fields.

Last year, the county council passed a resolution opposing the design through the North Fields to the River Road intersection. Franco also referenced petitions that garnered over 1,000 signatures as evidence a majority of city and county citizens agree.

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