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The City Journals

Less asphalt, reduced speeds say residents concerned about Wasatch Boulevard expansion

Jul 20, 2021 10:02AM ● By Cassie Goff

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

On May 22, a community event was held to raise awareness of the conversations and plans regarding Wasatch Boulevard. The event was coordinated by a nonpartisan grassroots resident organization called Save Not Pave. Save Not Pave aims to preserve the gateway to the Cottonwood Canyons for future generations and maintain the recreational nature, and beauty, of Wasatch Boulevard.

“Growth is inevitable,” Save Not Pave cofounder Ellen Birrell said. “It’s about trying to find the acceptable answers.”

Save Not Pave encourages practical ski traffic solutions by improving road safety and community connectivity and hopes to “illuminate the basic challenge of a state legislature funding new and bigger UDOT roads at three times the amount that they fund UTA to focus on transit,” Birrell said.

For years, a handful of different entities have been squabbling over what to do with Wasatch Boulevard. UDOT and Utah state leaders believe it would be best for Wasatch Boulevard to be the corridor between the canyons and accommodate for growing (ski and recreation) traffic.

“UDOT’s insistence on building yet another high volume/high speed arterial to solve future commuting trends only induces higher use of private vehicles,” Birrell said.

Save Not Pave members and other city residents are concerned about UDOT’s current plans to widen the road. “Their plan is to add another car lane on all of our streets. That plan is unsustainable,” Birrell said.

“I’ve been working to try to prevent Wasatch Boulevard from being expanded with more lanes,” said resident Jaime Fendler. “We are in favor of improving the road by not necessarily expanding it with more lanes and high speeds.”

However, Cottonwood Heights and many city residents do not want to see Wasatch Boulevard become a highway. Instead, residents hope to maintain a more residential character and implement a slower speed limit.

Save Not Pave is primarily focused on two key requests. They would like to see the 2.4-mile residential stretch of SR-210 between each canyon have a speed limit of 35 mph. 

In addition, they are hoping to reduce single vehicle traffic. Save Not Pave is proposing a UTA express bus lane along Highland Drive as a transportation alternative.

“We are asking Cottonwood Heights and the Salt Lake County Council to request less asphalt and more transportation alternatives,” Birrell said.

Figuring out who can make the ultimate decision for Wasatch Boulevard has been tricky. Wasatch Boulevard is a state-owned road (SR-210) serving as a highway between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon, so Utah state leaders and UDOT would like the road widened. However, since the portion of Wasatch Boulevard between the canyons resides within the city boundaries of Cottonwood Heights, surrounded by single-family residential neighborhoods, Cottonwood Heights believes the road should maintain a more residential feel.

“Residents don’t want fast moving cars in their neighborhoods,” Birrell said. “People are moving to Cottonwood Heights for the quality of life. We love the tranquility within the foothill area.”

Birrell mentioned how UDOT’s current plan for Wasatch Boulevard seems inconsistent with their Zero Fatalities campaigns, as they should be considering ways to lower traffic volume and speeds.

As part of the Save Not Pave event on May 22, cyclists and pedestrians (many being families with children) travelled from the Big Cottonwood Canyon parking lot along Wasatch Boulevard. The attendees made their way to Golden Hills Park for the rest of the event.  

Various speakers shared information about some of the organizations that affect the decisions regarding Wasatch Boulevard such as the Salt Lake County Council, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), and the Utah State Legislature.

Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion, Sen. Kathleen Riebe, Salt Lake County Councilmember Jim Bradley, Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Peterson, and Sandy Councilmember Monica Zoltanski spoke at the event about the importance of better safety.

Candidate for Sandy District 6 Aaron Dekeyzer, Wasatch Mountain Club Trail Planning Coordinator Will McCarville, and Save Not Pave founder Birrell also spoke at the event.

“We have reason to be optimistic for bettering Salt Lake County,” Birrell said. “People like the foothills. They don’t want noise, pollution and exhaust.”

For example, bicyclists and recreationalists frequently enjoy the areas around the Cottonwood Canyons. “Bicycling and running organizations have thrown support behind Save Not Pave.”

Save Not Pave is a resident organization with a five-member advisory board. Over the last year, Save Not Pave has posted banners and signs along Wasatch Boulevard, talked to engineers and planners, and hosted events. They even held a few events during the pandemic including hosting public meetings over Zoom.  

Save Not Pave will continue hosting public events and coordinating efforts in opposition of more asphalt. “We are hoping to see a lot of people participate,” Birrell said.

To learn more about Save Not Pave and/or Wasatch Boulevard, sign a petition, or donate to Save Not Pave visit www.savenotpave.org