Lawmakers Divided Over Legacy Highway

Lawmakers Divided Over Legacy Highway

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John Daley ReportingWill it happen or won't it happen? After years of legal wrangling and costly delay, a deal to build Legacy Highway was announced last month, but it's still up in the air.

Everything hinges on state lawmakers in the House of Representatives and at this point they're pretty divided. One block of lawmakers is adamantly opposed to negotiating with conservationists, and that puts Democrats in the rare position of being the swing vote.

When Governor Mike Leavitt and state road builders first unveiled plans for the Legacy Highway a decade ago, conservation groups had serious complaints, but the state consistently kept them out of the process. The groups sued and won.

Last month Governor Jon Huntsman announced a deal to break the stalemate, but that may be unraveling. Lawmakers must approve the deal and the GOP-controlled Utah House is splintered. Some lawmakers say let's just make the deal and move on. But others, like Davis County Republican Paul Ray and a significant block of rural law makers, have a "We won't negotiate with terrorists" attitude, over the road or any issue.

Ray is on the fence about his vote, but makes no apologies about using the strong language.

Rep. Paul Ray, (R) Clearfield: "They're using the court system to terrorize the public. They're costing us millions in taxpayer money not to build this road."

Ray says those lawmakers worry the deal will set a precedent for allowing environmentalists a seat at the table on future road projects.

Other sticking points include a ban on billboards and on large trucks and talk of a side-deal to help move the controversial Union Pacific rail line at 900 South out west of the city.

With Republicans split, Democrats represent the swing vote and they're withholding support because a provision to allow all interested parties in on future road discussions was left out of an earlier version of the deal.

Ralph Becker, (D) House Minority Leader: "Removing all of those provisions about those who have an interest in a decision early in the process caused a lot of concern from a good portion of the house democratic caucus."

The governor is expected to call a special session next month, but obviously the outcome is still uncertain.

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