Landscaping has American Fork officials asking questions
Utah Department Of Transportation will spend $1 million on landscaping and beautification at the new AF main street interchange. The interchange will be done late 2010. Photo courtesy of UDOT

AMERICAN FORK -- An elaborate landscaping plan for American Fork's gateway is causing heartburn for at least some elected officials.

American Fork is struggling to balance a $1 million landscaping renovation of its Main Street freeway interchange against a slashed budget of only $100,000 for its second freeway interchange at 500 East.

"We are getting the Cadillac here [at Main Street], so to speak, and the budget is just not there for 500 East," said city engineer Andy Spencer. "We will basically have an interchange that is pretty stark compared to [Main Street]."

UDOT has offered to give the city $100,000 in exchange for an agreement that the city will maintain the landscaping around the 500 East interchange in perpetuity, city staff said. Staff recommended that money be used to install bare-bones essentials, such as a sprinkler system.

"Any other landscaping will be put in at the expense of the city," Spencer said. "With our current budget, I can't imagine that we will have half a million to go out and landscape it."

Lars Anderson, a UDOT consultant, said the state had hoped to spend up to half a million dollars each to renovate the interchanges affected by the I-15 rebuild in Utah County, but budget shortfalls have forced the state to slash that amount.

Normally, a minimalist landscaping might not be such a problem. But in a recent meeting, UDOT unveiled final plans to city officials here in which the state will spend $1 million landscaping the new Main Street interchange where the future Pioneer Crossing will connect to Interstate 15 and American Fork's Main Street.

That money will go toward installing elaborate landscaping to reflect the interchange as what city officials called "the gateway to the city." Plans call for a dry creek, dozens of trees including maple, ash, birch, pine and crabapple, shrubs, perennial flowers, large signs designating the name of the city and Main Street, the city's logo, and even park-like lawn in two sections, though UDOT officials emphasized that they don't want to encourage people to use the grassy areas as park space.

The whole effect is meant to create a pleasant visual appeal, said city and state officials.

All this comes with a caveat that had at least a couple elected officials here concerned -- American Fork must contract to maintain all this. UDOT representatives told city officials that Provo pays between $40,000 and $50,000 a year to maintain less elaborate landscaping, which does not include any grass areas, at the intersection of University Avenue and I-15.

Elected officials said they were surprised to learn of the elaborate landscaping and its associated annual up-keep expenses. UDOT was quick to counter that the landscaping had been requested by a committee of American Fork employees and volunteers.

Council members said that while they liked the design and appreciated the work to beautify the city, they had not been aware of the extent of the plan, or its potential for expensive ongoing maintenance.

Councilwoman Heidi Rodeback said she is a proponent of beautiful landscaping to mark the city's gateway, but "I was hoping for something lower maintenance." She asked that city staff provide the council with an annual estimate of how much the maintenance of the landscaping will cost. Council members will then need "to pass judgement" about whether the city has the resources to afford that, she said.

Chamber president Debby Lauret said the landscaping would help draw people to the city's business districts, old and new.

"If this is a beautiful entrance and represents the city well, I think we could get the Chamber of Commerce to sponsor it," she said. "If money is an issue, I'll go to bat with the chamber."

"I think the likelihood is strong that we could get some organization to adopt it or have some oversight over its appearance," said Mayor Heber Thompson.

But other elected officials said the city must exercise caution when turning such a large project over to volunteers.

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