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Salt Lake's new sports district could mean burying this major downtown road

Salt Lake's new sports district could mean burying this major downtown road


A vision of Ryan Smith and Smith Entertainment Group's new downtown sports and entertainment district features tall, shiny buildings, lining a long promenade leading directly to the front door of the Delta Center, home of the new hockey team Jazz and Utah professional.

Missing from the near-futuristic cityscape is 300 West, also known as John Stockton Drive. The six-lane state highway, which carries about 16,000 cars and trucks a day, appears submerged beneath the parkway in renderings presented at a city council meeting earlier this month.

The Smiths Group plans to at least bury the heavily trafficked road between North Temple and 100 South, and use the area above the tunnel to install the new pedestrian mall and entertainment district depicted in the rendering neighborhood.

Smiths representatives were careful to emphasize that these are preliminary proposals and not the final product. An SEG spokesperson reiterated that point when asked for comment on plans for 300 West.

But sinking the national highway is more than a fleeting notion, as earlier this month SEG planners were gathering data on the concept's feasibility.

Robert Stewart, Utah Department of Transportation regional director for Salt Lake City, said in an interview that he was initially asked during the legislative session to come up with a cost estimate of what it would take to build a tunnel along the 300 West section and to complete the projection in a day or two.

It's in the hundreds of millions, he says. I'd hate to put one, two, three, four or five in front of that, but it's in the hundreds of millions.

More recently, he said, a traffic engineer hired by Smith to develop the district's traffic plan contacted him again about the concept to determine what transportation service needs were for that route .

I pointed out that 300 West is a very important route for us, he said.

Along with State Street, he said, it is one of two major north-south thoroughfares through downtown Salt Lake City and we cannot force more traffic onto State Street because it is already at full capacity in the North Temple area.

Plus, because it's a state highway, it has to accommodate everything from motorcycles to box trucks to large vehicles, he said.

Jon Larsen, Salt Lake City's transportation director, said if the Legislature wants to fund the project, the city would be eager to help make it happen.

Generally speaking, we are in favor of anything that improves the human experience downtown, walkability, reduced barriers and the safety and comfort of traveling downtown, he said. I think that's the main goal of tunneling 300 West, so it's something that we're excited about and interested in.

There are details that would need to be ironed out, where the tunnel descends and exits, the TRAX line it would run under, and groundwater issues, to name a few.

There are a lot of technical things to work out, but ultimately, if it means there's a nice, cohesive connection between the Delta Center and the cultural core of the neighborhood, that would be pretty cool, Larsen said.

Soren Simonsen, who teaches urban planning at the University of Utah and is a board member of the Utah Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanismsaid there are examples of cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., that use tunnels to move traffic and maintain a walkable city.

And there are a growing number of examples where cities have undergrounded highways or phased them out in favor of a more pedestrian-friendly route.

In Boston, the Big Dig project rebuilds 7.5-mile interstate highway corridorby running about half through tunnels, although the program was plagued by cost overruns and engineering problems, ultimately making it the most expensive road project in history. era.

Other cities like San Francisco, Seattle And Portland have also reopened vast swaths of space by moving highways underground.

I certainly understand and sympathize with the idea of ​​reducing some of the traffic when you're trying to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment and connect parts of downtown where major thoroughfares like 300 West are a real obstacle, Simonsen said.

Salt Lake City has been working for years to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly, Simonsen said, but those projects are at odds with UDOT, which focuses more on moving cars and trucks than on encouraging pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Every major city has to deal with this problem and there are cheaper ways to do it and more expensive ways to do it, he said. If it's out of line and you don't have a budget constraint, sure, put the heavy vehicles underground and remove that conflict.

But when it comes to opening up the city's west side, he said a the best proposal is that of the Rio Grande plans vision to bury the railroad tracks that extend west of downtown, creating better traffic flow and freeing up 75 acres of developable space.

For me, these measures have much more impact, he said. If you're going to invest that kind of money, that's where I would put it.




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