Troubled Bridge over Utah Lake

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On the east banks of Utah Lake the wind rushes through the vast fields of reed grass and they sway like waves in the breeze. Enormous pelicans are soaring, families of ducks paddle between the stalks of cattails. All this image is missing are the sounds and smells of commuter traffic shattering the tranquility as it roars down an “elevated six lane vehicle traffic highway.”

A private enterprise called Utah Crossing Inc. has come up with a solution to this problem. They propose to build a six lane, six-mile long bridge between Saratoga Springs and Orem. The bridge will be a “completely private venture, and be paid for through traffic toll.”

According to Marc Heileson, a Sierra Club Western Regional Representative, there are myriad problems with this bridge. There are no water quality mitigations to offset the impacts that the bridge will have on the lake. Rain and snow that fall onto the bridge will become contaminated and flow into the lake. The construction itself will require a tearing up of the lake bed in order to install steel beams every 150 feet. All of this in spite of recent efforts to help the endangered June Sucker regain a foothold in its natural habitat. Destroying and polluting the habitat is obviously counterproductive to those efforts.

Utah Lake is a critical ecosystem for migratory birds. Birds use it as breeding habitat while on their north/south migrations. It is one of the only natural fresh water lakes in our area, not to mention one of the only open spaces left in Utah Valley. Further development in the area will greatly reduce habitat space for these birds.

Pelican Point, the area proposed as the west side connection of the bridge, is well to the south of current residentially developed areas. The decision to place the bridge in an undeveloped area, well out of the way for Eagle Mountain commuters, suggests that those behind the proposal are anticipating that the area will become developed, which is a fair bet.

Interestingly enough, three of the four managers of the project listed on Utah Crossing’s website are in fact real estate developers. Perhaps this development is the real motivation for the bridge, especially considering that 86 percent of toll bridges in the United States are failing.

Take a moment and imagine you are the lake. Imagine your delicate ecosystem was altered and abused by individuals who thought your generosity was endless. Imagine saying goodbye one by one to each species of fish that composed your self-regulating ecosystem until only two were left. Imagine that you’ve (barely) survived all of this only to become spoken of as though you were an obstacle in the way of commerce and motorized transportation. Imagine you are the last quiet place in your valley.

Heileson sums it up: “This is a true bridge to nowhere.” He’s wrong about this. It is a bridge to unrestrained development and the demise of this abused lake.

There will be a public hearing on this issue on Thursday, Oct. 29, 6 p.m. at Utah County Health and Justice building located at 151 S. University Avenue in Provo, room 2500.