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Scrapbook: Parkway and Nature Preserve Club's Legacy to Utah

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

September 16, 2008

Parkway and Nature Preserve Club's Legacy to Utah

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A September 13 ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening of the Legacy Parkway and Nature Preserve capped off a successful 11-year campaign by the Sierra Club to nix a proposed freeway through federally protected wildlife habitat.

"Very few people at the beginning seemed to think we could pull this off," says Sierra Club organizer Marc Heileson, below, the Club's point person in the Legacy campaign. "We were confronted with a proposal for an 6-lane freeway and no mass transit whatsoever, and we've ended with a 4-lane scenic parkway, a 2,225-acre wetland preserve, and a huge transit build-out."

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In 1997, then-Governor Mike Leavitt announced plans for a 120-mile-long Interstate-style freeway through some of the most valuable wetlands habitat in the Western Hemisphere, used by 5-to-7 million shorebirds and 3 million ducks every year. "It was supposed to facilitate the doubling of Utah's population," says Heileson, "and would have led to more sprawl, air pollution, and traffic jams."

Partnering with citizen's groups like Utahns for Better Transportation, the Sierra Club led the charge in calling for a smaller, environmentally sensitive parkway, a wetland preserve instead of big box development bordering the parkway, and a mass transit system with commuter rail, below, and light rail. The Utah Department of Transportation, once an adversary, eventually became an ally, and did a complete redesign from what they'd originally planned.

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"What we got is a 180-degree turn from the original plan and a truly balanced transportation system that emphasizes quality of life," Heileson says."I think it shows we're trying to build for people and not just cars. It represents a real paradigm shift in the way we look at transportation."

Read a September 16 editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Photos courtesy of Utah Department of Transportation.

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