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The City Journals

Update: Wasatch Boulevard master plan is moving along

Nov 29, 2018 02:05PM ● By Cassie Goff

Wasatch Boulevard, otherwise known as SR 210, presents many unique challenges for city planners, including working with the entity that owns the road. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

The Wasatch Boulevard Master Plan has been in the works for nearly two years. Currently, the plan takes the form of a 168-page document that will serve as the guiding document for the corridor’s future. It is not a recommendation of any specific project but will work to inform decisions about future projects developing in 10 to 20 years. 

Wasatch Boulevard has been of concern for Cottonwood Heights and its residents for years. It’s a unique road that presents many challenges. Beginning at the I-215/6200 South Interchange (by Old Mill Golf Course), crossing the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, up to where it forks with Little Cottonwood Canyon Road, and spanning all the way into Sandy, it’s a heavily accessed road. It is used by commuters traveling to and from work between Salt Lake City and Sandy, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts traversing the two canyons and residents who live in the neighborhoods along the boulevard. 

Additionally, Wasatch Boulevard is one of the only roads within the city boundaries that is still owned by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). On many maps, the boulevard is referred to as State Road (SR) 210, which classifies it as a highway road.  

In 2017, the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) awarded a $85,000 grant to conduct a long-range master plan study along the Wasatch Boulevard corridor. This was the chance the city needed to work with WFRC in collaboration with UDOT, Utah Transit Authority (UFA), Sandy City, City of Holladay, Salt Lake County and other stakeholders on the future of the corridor. 

A project management team was quickly established, comprised of representatives from the entities working collaboratively on this project, including private consultant Tim Sullivan of Township + Range and his team, additional firms Landmark Design, Parametrix, and RSG, members from Cottonwood Heights (Community Development Director Michael Johnson, Former Community Development Director Brian Berndt, Former Business Development Specialist Peri Kinder and City Planner Andy Hulka), representatives from UDOT (Angelo Papastamos, Jordan Backman and Brad Palmer), and Alex Roy from Wasatch Front Regional Council. 

The team’s first objective was to establish goals for the corridor. The six goals they established are as follows: “preserve and enhance the character and livability of existing residential neighborhoods; move people through the corridor reliably and safely; increase travel choices on the corridor; enhance opportunities for recreation; preserve and enhance the scenic and natural qualities; and identify potential land uses and locations for new development or redevelopment.” 

After the goals were established, a preliminary analysis of all existing conditions was conducted. From that analysis, the team found that traffic would nearly double by 2040, with 85 percent more vehicles using Wasatch at Big Cottonwood and 97 percent more vehicles at Little Cottonwood. They also discovered that several of the main intersections along the corridor are already at maximum capacity. By 2040, five out of the eight intersections in the northern part of the corridor will be failing.

In Nov. 2017, the first open house was held where project goals and initial findings were presented to the community. Attendees provided feedback on those goals and proposed ideas for how the corridor could be improved to meet those goals. Long-range corridor concepts and scenarios were developed based on the community feedback before a second open house was held in March 2018. Attendees gave feedback on the elements of each of three scenarios for the future of the corridor.

Community Development Director Michael Johnson reiterated some of the resident concerns. “The corridor is reliant on single-occupancy vehicles to move people through. There are park and rides that are often at capacity and hard to access during busy ski days, which leads to illegal blocks of intersections and neighborhoods.” 

A preferred scenario was established after the second open house, created by combining the most effective ideas from each of the three scenarios. Between the months of July and September, the Cottonwood Heights Planning Commission held public comment sessions helping to solidify the preferred scenario, which has now received a positive recommendation from the planning commission and is, as of publication, under review by the city council. 

Currently, the master plan identifies four possible scenarios for the Wasatch Boulevard corridor. Only one, the preferred scenario, has been recommended. 

Scenario 1(Current Plans) uses existing plans while the corridor grows. It projects what would likely happen along Wasatch Boulevard if things continue as they are without major changes. “This would be to take the back-seat approach. It’s really the control group,” explained Johnson.  

Scenario 2 (East Meets West) uses East Coast planning development. This plan anticipates intense development at the gravel pit site, located on the east side of Wasatch Boulevard between 6200 South and Fort Union Boulevard, instead of development spreading along the corridor. Such development would include extra parking, a transit hub, and pedestrian and bike lanes connecting to the canyons. This plan does not include additional development to the road itself. 

Scenario 3 (Recreation Villages) allows for a few areas along the corridor to have less intense development and housing projects. These recreation villages would take place of a major regional center. This scenario is based on the idea of slowing down traffic, which many residents have been vocal about wanting. In order to lower the posted speed limits to 35–40 mph, a speed study would need to be conducted. 

However, slowing down traffic can be accomplished in other ways. “We can look at the right of way itself, like a middle cement barrier and narrowing the roads. We can design the corridor to incentivize lower speeds,” explained Johnson. 

The preferred scenario is based on three main objectives that aim to balance the goals: build a canyon-oriented, walkable urban place at the Gravel Pit; create a connected network of pathways and trails for transportation and recreation along the entire corridor; and balance livability, roadway capacity and sustainable canyon access south of Big Cottonwood.

This scenario was the result of combining the most popular elements from each of the three scenarios. It includes focusing all new development at the gravel pit site, adding a pathway along the length of the corridor, adding a shoulder lane that can be reserved for ski buses, reducing the speed limit to 35–40 mph, adding local frontage roads to improve neighborhood access and adding a connection to Draper through Highland Drive and Dimple Dell. 

“Although out of city (Cottonwood Heights) control, if commuters could take Highland Drive instead of Wasatch, then the traffic on Wasatch would greatly decrease,” said City Planner Andy Hulka.  

As of publication, public comment has been extended and the council will have further discussion throughout November. Residents can voice their opinions on the Master Plan during city council business meetings on Tuesday nights. The council will set a date for action after further discussion has ceased.