Dear Southern Utah

Dear Southern Utah,

Hi. It’s me again, Uncle Knux.

Come on in, find a comfy spot, this might be a long one. As per the usual, we’ll have refreshments when we’re done and there’s beer in the cooler.

We need to chat about a few things. Some of them you may have never heard of before so let’s get some definitions out of the way before we get too deep into the conversation.

  • Induced Demand “is the phenomenon that after supply increases, more of a good is consumed.”
  • Western Corridor is a road planned to flank the western side of St. George.
  • Societal Inertia “is the opposite of social change. It is the resistance to welcome change, the endurance of a society to maintain the standing order.”

Let’s jump right in as we have a lot to cover today.

Have you ever noticed that as soon as they finish widening a rode to mitigate traffic, it pretty much needs to be done again? This phenomenon is a prime example of induced demand. Bigger, wider, faster roads are attractive to motorists trying to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. Every time you make those roads bigger, wider, faster, they immediately draw more motorists. These motorists are not new. There isn’t a sudden surge in people driving. Instead, people who may have used a slightly different route are now jumping on the new one because it’s, you guessed it, bigger, wider, faster.

We recently saw a prime example of this with the widening of Bluff Street in St. George. The road was busy prior to the expansion, but not overly so. The choke point was the intersection with St. George Boulevard which happens to be just a block north of where I work. Before making it bigger, wider, faster, cars would get backed up, but never more than a block or so and they never sat there for much more than the time it takes for the light to change.

During the construction, automobile congestion certainly worsened, but it never got so bad that people completely stopped using the road and at it’s worse, it still never was backed up for more than a couple of blocks. Motorists chose different routes, avoided the area or simply didn’t drive (there was an uptick in bikes on the road during certain phases as a giant section was blocked off and cars couldn’t go through).

Now that construction is complete and we have three lanes going both directions and a 45 MPH speed limit, the choke point still exists. Traffic still gets backed up at about a block at a time and people have to wait a whole 90 seconds for the light to change.

This is induced demand. There are plenty of studies showing this phenomenon. I’m sure that everyone reading this has their own anecdote of witnessing this happen multiple times. The one thing you won’t find is a case study that suggests creating bigger, wider, faster roads will solve traffic. That’s because it doesn’t. It delays it, makes it impossible for people to choose their preferred method of transportation and effectively clogs a city of cars.

That brings us to the Western Corridor.

You might be thinking, “Wait, I thought we were fighting the Northern Corridor.” And you’d be right, but our current fight has consequences that will reverberate throughout the country and down the road. You see, this isn’t just a road through a desert. It is a road through a National Conservation Area. If it gets built, we will be setting a precedent that can and most likely will be used down the road to allow other roads through other conservation areas.

The County Commissioners and the BLM have offered up another chunk of land called Zone 6 as a way to abate the destruction of habitat by swapping one chunk for another, protecting a new region for the destruction of another. While we are all in on protecting Zone 6 and adding it to the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, it does not solve the problem.

Remember that the Northern Corridor will be setting a precedent. The lands in Zone 6 are a combination of Utah State Trust Land, BLM lands and some Private. The big chunks that are controlled by the BLM are already protected. The Bear Claw Poppy Reserve keeps the space open and holds the same level of protection that would be offered under a Zone 6 swap. The part that isn’t often discussed is the Western Corridor.

For the Western Corridor to be built, the alignment goes right through the Bear Claw Poppy Reserve which would be a part of Zone 6. Now this wouldn’t happen for a while, hopefully, but if we set the precedent that it’s ok to build roads through our conservation areas, we will end up with nothing but roads. I can’t imagine a more dystopian future for Washington County.

Now, I know you’re getting anxious. The refreshments aren’t going anywhere. Sure, grab another beer. Let’s talk a quick minute about Social Inertia.

Just like everything else in the world, society, organizations, humanity has inertia. It often feels impossible to stop, change or even affect the direction that certain things are going. That’s the part that sucks about it. The good part, once we do change the direction, it’s much easier to maintain that momentum and make a change.

It feels like our biggest enemies in this fight are the BLM, the County Commissioners and other elected officials, but I don’t think so. Our biggest enemy is Social Inertia. There are too many people that think that nothing can be done, the decision is made and why fight. These are our biggest enemies. By staying silent they are contributing to the inertia and allowing it to roll right through.

We might not win, that’s a reality, but when it is all said and done, I hope like hell I can say I did my part, I did everything I could to protect our land and keep this asinine road from being built. Even if we lose, and I don’t think we will, I hope I can say that I did everything I could.

Alright, go ahead and get your cookies. I’m sure we’ll be chatting again soon.

Thanks,

Uncle Knux.

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