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Utah Travel Headlines

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Burr Trail Switchbacks Could Be Paved Under Proposed Funds Deal

The famous switchbacks on the Burr Trail could be paved if Garfield County gets its way and completes a controversial funds swap with the Utah Transportation Commission.

The Burr Trail runs through Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase National Monument, from the town of Boulder down to Bullfrog on Lake Powell. It has been described as "the most beautiful backroad on earth."

A portion of the trail has been paved, but the switchbacks and the portion inside the national park are still dirt.

Garfield County has long pushed to pave the entire roadway, saying that would help open up many square miles of very scenic country. Environmental groups have opposed paving any portion of the road, and are expected to fight vigorously if the deal goes through.

Under the deal, the county would trade federal funding for state funding, thinking that might make it easier to push the project through.

The Salt Lake Tribune has this article on the proposal. Here are excerpts.

Garfield County offered to swap $250,000 in federal funding available to it for design of Burr Trail switchback improvements for $212,000 in state funding instead — essentially swapping away its federal funding to the state for 85 cents on the dollar.

“Federal dollars just have so many requirements that they are more difficult to use” than state funds, Garfield County Engineer Brian B. Bremner said in a telephone interview. He said federal money would require a small entity like his to use outside consultants to comply with all rules.

“An upgrade would probably include some kind of surfacing. A minimum-level surfacing would be a paving. A possibly more artistic surfacing could include some colored concrete that would blend into the natural rock,” he (Garfield County Engineer Brian B. Bremner) said.

Stephen Bloch, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said SUWA is concerned that paving could “change the backcountry nature of that area by allowing people to drive at higher speeds,” and adds that the beauty of the area puts it “on our priority list.” Bloch added that his group does not know enough about the financial swap between the county and state to comment about it.


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