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You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone
 Better Alternatives For East – West Traffic
By Kerry Kastler Burt – Retired Intermountain Healthcare Executive; Past Chairman, St. George Planning Commission; Past Chairman St. George Area Chamber of Commerce; Member Conserve Southwest Utah Board of Directors
Anyone familiar with the St. George metropolitan area likely acknowledges the need for a stronger east-west traffic flow between the Hurricane area and the Ivins area. This need is no surprise; Southwest Utah has some of the most scenic desert landscapes and recreation in the nation and our county frequently appears on the list of fastest growing areas in the country. 

 A long-favored solution is a new highway, referred to as the Northern Corridor.  It would pick up from the recently extended Washington Parkway at the top of Green Springs, run very nearby homes built and sold upon the premise they neighbored the quiet of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA), then traverse four miles across the NCA and finally connect to Red Hills Parkway not far from the Bluff Street/SR-9 intersection. 
To note, the Northern Corridor, a project that will cost around $100 million, has failed to gain approval seven times in the past because it violates several federal environmental laws enacted long ago with bipartisan support.  What if it fails again?
Having lived in St. George for 30+ years, returning this year after a short five-year absence I was taken aback by the proposal of a major route through the NCA. In years past, there was a landmark compromise to protect habitat for a number of species, most famously the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.  St. George could grow freely in exchange for conserving this land that provided a safe haven for the tortoise, many additional desert species and protected the scenic landscape and recreational opportunities near Pioneer Park and beyond. 
Gratefully, there are very viable alternatives, and we owe it to ourselves and future generations to consider them.  We can achieve a faster east-west traffic route without disturbing the NCA, and without endangering treasured landscape and wildlife.  Two such alternatives studied in the recent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) include 1) upgrading Red Hills Parkway with intersection improvements and a connection to I-15 around milepost 9, or 2) turning St. George Boulevard and 100 South into one-way streets. These alternatives are easily explored on the CSU website:  Community Transportation Alternatives - Conserve Southwest Utah.   

Before we rush to construct the Northern Corridor that could ultimately open up thousands of acres to development in an area we once promised and deemed worthy to protect, let’s look seriously at the options.  Moving traffic should not exclude the effort to conserve our public lands most especially in light of other very viable choices.
Regrettably many of us, including me in the past, fail to study the impacts and/or seriously explore the options because it’s common for us to turn a blind eye to projects outside of our backyards.  In this case I would argue this is our backyard and it’s at risk of losing its identity.
Currently the Northern Corridor is being pushed for approval in the waning days of the Trump Administration.  If it succeeds, it will be challenged administratively in the Biden Administration or legally in federal court. These challenges could cause its failure yet again.   
Let’s get informed and share our voices with local leaders and government representatives.   We once collaborated on “Vision Dixie” growth principles. Let’s collaborate again to further that vision and identify solutions that will succeed, solutions that will both move traffic and protect the environment that makes this place so stunning, attractive and popular in the first place.
Borrowing Joni Mitchell’s words, let’s not pave paradise! Let’s not look back in coming decades only to remember her sentiment that “you don’t know what you got til its gone”. 
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