Hey everyone and welcome to a special edition of our weekly news podcast, Summit in Six.
As many of you may know, UDOT is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement – or EIS – to evaluate improvements at the I-80 and State Route-224 interchange at Kimball Junction, and on SR-224 from Kimball Junction through the Olympic Parkway intersection in Summit County. This project builds on information from the Kimball Junction and SR-224 Area Plan that was completed back in 2021.
Most recently, the project team held a 30-day public comment period to get feedback on the Alternatives Development and Screening Methodology Report. That report identifies criteria for evaluating the alternatives – and then guides which alternatives are carried forward for more detailed evaluation in the EIS.
With that, let’s get going. Today we have with us from the Kimball Junction environmental study team Becky Stromness, the UDOT project manager, and Heidi Spoor, the consultant environmental manager, to answer some common questions about the EIS.
Thank you so much for having us on, Bridget. Before we start on the more technical aspects, I just want to thank everyone who has commented already. It’s the community’s input that really completes projects like this, so their participation means a lot to us.
BRIDGET > BECKY:
Absolutely, this kind of involvement is always the goal and what we love to see. So, Becky, can you tell me about the overall point of the study? Is there a specific traffic problem UDOT is trying to solve?
Great question. That’s something we like to call the “purpose and need” of the project, and it’s what drives all this work. So, the purpose here is to address transportation-related safety and mobility for everyone using Kimball Junction. The first thing we want to address is improving operations and travel times on SR-224 from the I-80 interchange through Olympic Parkway. We are also looking to improve safety by reducing vehicle queues that are backing onto the I-80 off-ramps. Improving pedestrian and bicyclist mobility and accessibility throughout the evaluation area is another important part of this. And the last piece of the purpose is maintaining or improving transit travel times through the evaluation area. I think most folks who have driven through here, especially in the winter, could tell you about the need… the traffic congestion is beyond frustrating.
BRIDGET > HEIDI:
Coming from first hand experience, it definitely can be…frustrating but it’s really awesome to know that we’re looking at a couple of different potential solutions through this process. So, Heidi, how did UDOT come up with the options that are currently being proposed?
In May 2021, UDOT, working with Summit County, published the “Kimball Junction and SR-224 Area Plan” that documented the results of a study conducted using UDOT’s Solutions Development process.
That Area Plan was conducted to identify and analyze improvements to address the various parts of the purpose Becky was telling us about, the general travel times, safety, accessibility, et cetera.
This study was specifically intended to evaluate solutions that improve capacity and multimodal transportation in the Kimball Junction area and address the existing and long-term mobility needs of residents, commuters, and visitors between the I-80 interchange and the two traffic signals at Ute Boulevard and Olympic Parkway on SR-224.
Transportation problems as well as opportunities to solve the problems were established in the study area thanks to input from study partners and the public. Other criteria were developed to balance transportation and environmental goals and objectives. To develop the goals, we used even more input from the study partners and the public.
BRIDGET > HEIDI:
Ok, can you tell me more about the outcome of the Area Plan? What came from it?
The Area Plan process analyzed thirty different solutions and narrowed the options down to three alternatives, which include intersection and pedestrian improvements and larger, more complex transportation solutions that are being evaluated in the EIS. Evaluating the alternatives included developing screening criteria to address the problems, opportunities, and study goals; developing a full range of alternatives; and documenting the elimination of alternatives to limit the need to re-consider the full range of alternatives later, during the EIS process.
BRIDGET > HEIDI:
Okay, so it sounds like a lot of thought has already gone into these options. How is UDOT going to keep narrowing them down? What are the deciding factors here?
The evaluation process that we used for the alternatives in the Area Plan included a two-level screening process that included developing screening criteria based on addressing the problems and opportunities and study goals, developing a full range of alternatives, and documenting the elimination of alternatives.
Level 1 screening – done during the Area Plan – determined whether each alternative had a “fatal flaw” or whether it didn’t meet the problems and opportunities of the study. Level 2 screening of the remaining alternatives included more quantitative objectives as well as a side-by-side evaluation of technical screening criteria.
BRIDGET > HEIDI:
So, I assume during the EIS there will be further screening?
Moving forward, Level 3 screening criteria will eliminate alternatives that do not meet the purpose and need, which are what we defined earlier. Level 4 screening criteria will eliminate alternatives that meet the purpose and need but might be considered unreasonable for other reasons — for example, an alternative option that would have unreasonable impacts on the natural and human environment, wouldn’t meet regulatory requirements, or could be replaced by a less costly concept with similar impacts on the natural and human environment… would all be considered unreasonable. The community’s comments on the criteria, measures, and data we use to screen the alternatives in the EIS will help us determine how an alternative is further analyzed. We’ve collected all questions and comments submitted throughout the public comment period and are taking them into consideration moving forward.
BRIDGET > BECKY:
Wow! That’s a lot! Thank you for breaking that down, Heidi. Becky, What are the next steps in the study?
The alternative screening report will have more detailed information, such as more refined engineering for the proposed solutions as well as a breakdown of how the alternatives stack up against those level three and level four criteria Heidi explained.
Following the release of the Alternative Screening Report, we plan to have another comment period. We’ll ask participating agencies and members of the public to review the report – which will be widely available on the project website – and submit comments or concerns they may have about it. We anticipate the screening report will come out late in the fall of this year.
From there, we’re expecting a Draft EIS will be released in 2024, which will warrant a public hearing and another comment period. The Draft EIS will fully evaluate the alternatives that pass through screening in greater detail.
This is great info. It’s really cool to hear at how many levels of this process the community’s opinion plays a role and really matters and will continue to do so as we move forward.
And for our listeners: we encourage you to get involved and stay involved! The fruits of this whole process will affect and benefit all of us who live and work here in Summit County.
You can find all of the project’s latest updates, reports, and comment opportunities can be found online, at KimballJunctionEIS.udot.utah.gov. As always, we’ll be sure to link the URL in our show notes for you.