Kimball Junction traffic redesign gets state funding, helped by developers’ political clout |

Kimball Junction traffic redesign gets state funding, helped by developers’ political clout

Environmental study seen as last major hurdle before design work and construction

The environmental review is a costly requirement and its funding removes a major hurdle before construction can occur, though that is likely still years away.
Park Record file photo

A year after a last-minute law paved the way for Hideout to annex Richardson Flat, the Utah Legislature’s final days once again included a flurry of activity. But this time, Summit County stands to benefit from a relatively late addition.

H.B. 433, the $1.1 billion infrastructure bill passed Thursday, includes a provision expressly appropriating money for “an environmental impact study for Kimball Junction in Summit County.”

It may not sound like much, but environmental studies like this one are expensive, and Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said it was one of the last major hurdles in the process to redesign the snarled intersections at Kimball Junction.

No dollar figure was attached, and Fisher said it might be too early for the study’s cost to be known.

The study will examine the S.R. 224-Interstate 80 interchange and the two intersections south of it that traffic engineers have said contribute heavily to the congestion. Fisher said the county’s desired bus rapid transit system, which is undergoing a separate environmental review, will be included in any plan to redesign the Junction.

The funding also places the project on an influential state planning document, known as the “STIP” or statewide transportation improvement program. County officials have been trying to get the Kimball Junction project onto the STIP for a few years, and officials have said more political clout at the Statehouse would be helpful in securing funding.

Recently, County Council Chair Glenn Wright suggested Dakota Pacific Real Estate, the firm looking to build more than 1,000 residences at Kimball Junction, could use its political muscle to get the project funded with taxpayer money.

Fisher indicated the timing of the environmental study’s inclusion in H.B. 433 wasn’t coincidental.

“It is clear to me that development interests in Kimball Junction had influence over this project,” Fisher said, adding that the inclusion “stands to benefit us all.”

“We have been projecting needs there for several years and it takes a lot of different entities including the county, including the state, including the Legislature here and including private landowners to bring these projects about,” he said.

Dakota Pacific Development Director Jeff Gochnour said in a prepared statement to The Park Record that last week’s funding approval brings transportation improvements at Kimball Junction years closer to reality.

“Dakota Pacific is glad to have played a part in communicating the need to begin the process of funding these projects,” Gochnour said. “As we spoke with legislators to encourage this funding, we were pleased they recognized the need for significant improvements at Kimball Junction, especially if the area is to host another Olympic Winter Games.”

The large-scale infrastructure bill, which started with a $2.2 billion price tag, was trimmed as the general session came to a close Friday. It authorizes $264 million in bonds to pay for certain projects, with another $835 million coming from the state’s general fund. Other projects include “double tracking” sections of the Frontrunner commuter rail line on the Wasatch Front, estimated to cost $200 million, $11 million for bus rapid transit in the Salt Lake Valley and road improvements near Zion National Park.

The environmental assessment is the final large hurdle before design work can begin, Fisher said, and it will consider a “preferred alternative” that he expects the Utah Department of Transportation to choose sometime this year.

The Summit County Council recently weighed in with its preference among several alternatives UDOT has presented. The council’s desired option would bury S.R. 224 under the intersections at Ute Boulevard and Olympic Parkway, allowing unimpeded travel to Interstate 80. Local traffic would access Kimball Junction businesses by using newly created frontage roads.

Construction could still be years away, and no money has yet been appropriated for it, but Fisher said a final price tag wouldn’t be determined until after the environmental review was completed.

Both last year’s Hideout-related change and this year’s addition, while they had opposite effects for the county, stood to benefit land developers. Developers are well represented among lawmakers themselves, especially in Republican leadership, including Senate President Stuart Adams, Speaker of the House Brad Wilson and Majority Whip Mike Schultz.

One other bill that will likely have an impact in Summit County is the so-called pandemic “endgame” legislation that, among other provisions, all but ends the state’s mask mandate on April 10.

There are provisions in the bill that allow for masks to be mandated in certain situations, but Fisher indicated the mandate locally would expire with the rest of the state’s.

“Our current concentration about getting as many people vaccinated as we can as the flow of vaccine increases — doesn’t change a thing there,” he said.

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