Do Utahns want to spend taxpayer money to the tune of $150 million to construct a new highway whose only purpose is to save tourists a few minutes of driving time?
Building a new highway when many existing roads are in need of maintenance and safety improvements is absurd. Yet this is exactly what the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC) is proposing.
SCIC’s current strategy is to claim that a new, paved road through the rough and rocky terrain of the Book Cliffs will enhance tourism in Uinta County by providing a faster route for tourists to travel from Dinosaur National Monument to Arches National Park. This claim, however, is baseless: Highway 136 already runs between Dinosaur and Arches and the proposed new highway through the Book Cliffs would potentially cut the trip by just a few minutes.
This proposed highway would cut through a remote and pristine mountainous area prized by hunters for its exceptional elk and deer herds. The extreme terrain would translate into an extremely expensive road that would cross through Grand County and a private ranch. Grand County and the private property owners have repeatedly told the SCIC that they are adamantly opposed to this project. Yet the SCIC keeps pushing to have this unwanted and unjustifiable highway built.
For a little more background, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition is comprised of a board of county commissioners from Uintah, Carbon, San Juan, Emery, Duchesne, Sevier and Daggett counties who claim to have conservative values of fiscal responsibility and are strong supporters of local control and private property rights.
Yet this proposed highway is fiscally irresponsible and flies in the face of local control and private property rights. The highway would place additional staffing and financial burdens on Grand County’s already overloaded law enforcement agencies, Search and Rescue teams and road maintenance department. It would require the use of eminent domain to cross through private property.
I am truly baffled by the commissioners from Emery, Carbon and Duchesne counties that are willing to support a project that will do nothing to enhance their economies. Rather than enhancing tourism in Helper, Green River, Price and Duchesne, the Book Cliffs Highway will do the opposite by diverting tourism away from these communities. Ironically, the new highway will funnel more tourists to Grand County, which already has more tourists than we can handle.
The Book Cliffs region is widely known as a crown jewel of the Colorado Plateau, full of critical high-quality wildlife habitat, ancient rock art and cliff dwellings, thousand-year-old trees, and spectacular scenery. Wildlife enthusiasts largely oppose this highway recognizing the significant negative impact it will have on the fish, elk, deer, buffalo, mountain lions, and bears that have inhabited the Book Cliffs for generations.
Nonetheless, SCIC is counting on the State of Utah to pass along millions of dollars received from the federal government’s recent infrastructure bill. This is mind-boggling. There are critical and pressing infrastructure needs in Utah that this federal money should be used for.
Let’s use our federal infrastructure bill funding to repair, upgrade and make safety improvements to our existing roads and infrastructure for the benefit of Utah residents. For example, Highway 6, which runs from Spanish Fork to Price and Green River, has been the scene of many fatal accidents over the years. These federal infrastructure funds should be used to improve safety on Highway 6 and other similar roads – not used to build an expensive and unnecessary highway through some of the roughest terrain in Utah.
If you reside in one of the counties that make up this coalition, please contact your local elected officials to let them know you do not support the construction of a paved highway through the iconic Book Cliffs.
All citizens of Utah should contact Governor Cox and their state and local elected officials to urge them to deny funding to the SCIC to build this boondoggle Book Cliffs Highway.
Mary McGann is chair of the Grand County Commission.