Highland has hit a bump on a $4.5 million road plan for its east-west transportation connector: the Utah State Developmental Center board.
City officials have had the Murdock Connector Road between the Alpine Highway (State Route 74) and North County Boulevard on their transportation plan for more than 30 years.
“It’s been the land negotiations with the state for the state property that has taken a while,” said Shawn Eliot, Mountainland Association of Governments transportation spokesman.
However, USDC board members must approve the project before Highland can proceed with the road, and will discuss the issue at a July 14 board meeting.
“They would be the ones making the approval ultimately for the route through their property,” Eliot said during a Tuesday phone interview.
Less than a mile in length, the completed project would cut five miles off an ambulance trip to American Fork Hospital for south Highland residents, and would provide ease of access to Lone Peak High School, the LDS Church's Mt. Timpanogos Temple and several area commercial centers.
Highland Mayor Mark Thompson believes the three-lane connector would also significantly improve traffic safety and congestion.
“The amount of traffic that is handled by North County Boulevard is high right now and creates entry problems at intersections," Thompson said Tuesday.
During rush-hour traffic there’s almost no chance for entry, he said.
The planned connector would follow the Murdock Canal pipeline after cutting through or around a USDC planned commercial development.
“We’d like to see another option, so drivers can exit without having to turn and have that east-west connector to use instead,” Thompson said.
Another advantage, according to Highland Councilman Rod Mann, is providing an alternative route if North County Boulevard becomes blocked during peak traffic time.
"It's more than just worrying about high school traffic," Mann said. "It's a multi-city issue. It's not just a Highland issue."
The new road would get 10,000 trips per day once opened, Eliot said. In comparison, the north-south Alpine Highway gets 20,000.
Currently, Highland residents who want to drive to the Cedar Hills Walmart have to head east on Timpanogos Highway (State Route 92) and turn south on North County Boulevard, and the opposite is true for Cedar Hills residents who would rather shop at Meier’s Meats and Fine Foods in Highland.
“It’s a pretty long trek to go around to get some places,” Eliot said.
The only available connectors that go east and west for that area of northeast Utah County are State Street (U.S. Highway 89) and SR 92.
“The reason why State Route 92 is so large is because there are not enough east-west collector roads,” Eliot said. “We still don’t have a good east-west collector in that area of the county and we probably never will.”
Funding for the project is already in place with MAG awarding $4.1 million to Highland from Utah County sales tax revenue in 2009. A small amount of those funds have been used to purchase property and for other preliminary preparations for the project.
“Estimated cost, right off the top of my head, would be $4.5 million,” said Utah County Engineer Richard Nelson on Tuesday.
State legislators approved the project in 2014 to build on state property. Politics and a revamped process in 2015 dictated Highland representatives needed to go back for state approval, only this time in front of USDC board members.
"We had started going out to bid," Mann said of the project. "The Legislature sent a 'cease and desist.'"
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, sits on the USDC board, and has posted online at UtahPolicy.com against shrinking the center property more than it already has been.
According to Dayton, the state initially owned 780 acres and sold acreage for what is now Fox Hollow Golf Course and to Alpine School District for the Lone Peak High School campus. Extensive Developmental Center park property was sold to Highland and later renamed Highland Glen.
Future plans include leasing USDC property south of the high school for a business district as a source of funding for the center.
“The USDC has become an irreplaceable resource for the people who call the center home, and for those with disabilities throughout the state who access dental care, respite care, and other services there. The center is a vital option on the spectrum of services we provide for those in need,” Dayton posted on May 31 about the issue.
“There are those who would like to fragment the center’s land with roads, and use it in ways other than its intended purposes. I hope that this will not be the final outcome of current discussions,” she added.
Dayton was not available for comment Tuesday.
How a short road originally planned in 1980 can take so long to become a reality isn’t the question anymore, if Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, has assessed the situation correctly.
“Senator Dayton is just trying to make sure the Developmental Center’s future needs are met,” Christofferson said. “If you put that road right next to the canal I think that would work fine, but there are other options.”
Another USDC board member, Scott Smith, responded to Dayton’s thoughts in May by saying he thought a compromise could be reached. He would like to see a two-lane road instead, and a moderate speed limit set for the thoroughfare.
According to Christofferson, putting plans into action are being slowed by the intricacies of it being a multi-agency project -- MAG, the USDC board, Highland, the Utah Department of Transportation and Utah County -- and not necessarily because of the state.
However, one person had a different view.
“It’s all dependent on when we can get it approved by the state. We’ve been working on it a number of years now,” Nelson said.