Utah State University-Moab Dean Steve Hawks stands near the intersection of Mill Creek Drive and U.S. Highway 191. The Moab City Council recently approved a federal aid agreement to improve the intersection, which will lead to the future site of USU-Moab's new campus. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Development along Moab’s southern corridor has been anticipated for years, and recent funding approvals for key infrastructure projects signal the beginning of the road to a new Utah State University-Moab campus by 2019.

The Moab City Council unanimously approved a federal aid agreement with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to improve the intersection of Mill Creek Drive and U.S. Highway 191.

Earlier in the month, Moab received grant and loan funding approval from Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB) for additional road construction, as well as infrastructure development, for the new campus.

Both projects are currently in the planning phase.

“The hope of the city is to accommodate future access to the campus,” UDOT Project Manager Troy C. Torgersen said of the Mill Creek Drive intersection improvement project. “So we have to look at this from a long-term perspective.”

The agreement that the city council approved includes contributions of $100,000 by the city and $100,000 by Grand County, amounting to a typical local government contribution of just over 16 percent of the total cost of a federal highway improvement project. The overall cost of the project is estimated at $1.2 million.

Although the initial planning meeting is still in the future, the Mill Creek Drive intersection improvement project is currently expected to include widening and straightening of the residential highway so it intersects with Highway 191 across from the future road to the campus, he said.

Elimination of the northbound Highway 191 exit lane onto Mill Creek Drive and widening of the highway to accommodate construction of a four-way intersection with a stop light is expected, to make the intersection safe for traffic to and from the future campus.

The environmental study for the project is currently under way, and Torgersen said the design should be complete by the fall of 2017. Once officials determine that the design has met all federal requirements and UDOT approves it, the project will be open to public comment before going to bid. Construction could begin in the spring of 2018, he said.

On Nov. 3, the CIB offered the city a $726,241 grant and a $727,000 loan for 20 years at 2.5 percent interest to fund the building of the road to the new campus and development of infrastructure. Funds are expected to be allocated in February 2017.

“This project will literally pave the way to the campus,” USU-Moab Dean Steve Hawks said.

Preliminary design plans include a two-lane, lighted road leading to the campus center, with room for future expansion to four lanes with a landscaped median. Ideally, Hawks said, the funds will also allow for the intersection with Mill Creek Drive and the highway to include an underpass for pedestrians and cyclists.

Securing funds for the first phase of the project is an important milestone after years of work by Hawks, USU-Moab Academic Adviser Sam Sturman, and other local officials and community leaders to bring the highly anticipated campus expansion to fruition.

Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison has described the project as a multiphased one that addresses many critical needs in the community, such as essential workforce training and development through technical and higher education.

“It has (an) affordable housing component to it; there’s employment opportunities through the private sector as well as the other sectors that are involved here. And it provides economic diversification for our community and our area,” he said in a past statement.

With funding secured and improvement projects underway, city and county planning officials are examining zoning and other development considerations in the area expected to be most impacted by the future campus, Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine said.

“We’re no longer talking about if, but when,” Levine said.

There will undoubtedly be secondary and tertiary impacts beyond the immediate changes brought by the addition to the community of a 500-student university campus, its faculty and support staff, Levine said.

“Planning in that corridor is about facilitating that growth in a direction we as a community want it to go,” he explained.

Businesses and residents along Mill Creek Drive are already grappling with growth, as a proposed high-density housing development just south of the street is reaching the final phase of city approval for construction.

“(Mill Creek Drive) is the old highway through town, so it’s not a big surprise,” Wildland Scapes, LLC owner and manager Kara Dohrenwend said of the Mill Creek Drive intersection improvement project.

Dohrenwend is looking forward to seeing the improvements, particularly the elimination of the northbound exit lane, as it currently allows vehicles to enter the two-lane road at freeway speeds, she said.

She and her neighbors are hopeful that the interests of existing residents will be considered as the city and county develop a plan for the area’s development, she said.

Among other considerations, she hopes to see officials take into account a ground-level impact study of increased impervious surface development uphill of the erosion-prone neighborhood south of Mill Creek Drive.

“To me, this project is very similar to the (overburdened) sewer plant,” Dohrenwend said of the proposed multi-family housing development being considered as approvals for the road improvement go forward. “We have so much desperation for affordable housing, there’s this urgency that creates an unwillingness to look at it critically, to slow down and be more intentional in how we proceed. We didn’t do something about these things earlier, so we need to be careful as we do something about them now.”

UDOT funding, CIB grant approval first steps toward major improvements

This project will literally pave the way to the campus.