Plans for a paved highway through the Book Cliffs, long opposed by Grand County residents and public officials, have been suspended yet again.
The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, which is comprised of Carbon, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, San Juan, Sevier, and Uintah counties, voted to suspend a proposal for a 35-mile paved highway connecting Interstate 70 to the Seep Ridge Road in Uintah County.
Incoming Grand County Commissioner Trisha Hedin, long a critic of the project, said the plans have “always been an ill-conceived notion.”
“Taxpayers have no need for this highway, specifically in a time of economic downturn and uncertainty,” said Hedin. “The suspension of this project was an excellent decision and I hope that they never see the need to revisit its proposal.”
The road—referred to as the Eastern Utah Regional Connector and commonly referred to as the Book Cliffs Highway—would be located within Grand County and has been opposed by county residents and officials, who voted to withdraw the county from membership in the coalition over the issue in 2015.
Proposed again in 2019, the revamped proposal claimed that the road would be a boon for tourism—not just mining and resource extraction—and that all costs for construction and maintenance of the highway would be paid by the state.
However, the coalition withdrew its right-of-way application from the Bureau of Land Management and, on Dec. 18, voted to suspend the Environmental Impact Study for the project, citing “challenges and concerns related to the EIS.”
Statements by SCIC officials on the potential use of the road for tourism met with incredulity from long-time opponents of the road.
“Those who want to recreate in wild places will go to the Book Cliffs, a highway is not needed for that,” said Hedin. “Tourism is ever-growing in Grand County, regardless of an additional corridor to do so.”
Hedin and others indicated that the the true focus of the proposed corridor is for resource extraction.
“The energy in the Uintah Basin is funneled via US 40 to refineries in Salt Lake and opening up a highway through this country will simply lead to elevated land management issues, not mitigate them,” Hedin commented.
At an Oct. 9 meeting of the Grand County Commission, officials drafted a letter in protest of the plan including claims that the SCIC’s funding sources are questionable and that there was insufficient evidence that the state will fund the road.
This is a developing story and more information may be added as available.