Legislation would ‘streamline’ the construction of new canal trails in Utah | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Legislation would ‘streamline’ the construction of new canal trails in Utah 

Can Canal

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click to enlarge A plaque on Salt Lake City's McClelland Trail describes the process of converting an old canal line into a walking and cycling path. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • A plaque on Salt Lake City's McClelland Trail describes the process of converting an old canal line into a walking and cycling path.

Utah’s effort to build a network of connected walking and cycling trails could get a boost from existing canal lines under draft legislation that earned an early show of support on Wednesday.

Members of the Transportation Interim Committee voted unanimously to recommend a bill from Ogden Democratic Rep. Rosemary Lesser, which would launch a census of the state’s major water channels for trail prioritization, create a “toolkit” to follow when converting canals into pathways, and give cities, counties and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) the right of first refusal to purchase canal corridors when they are abandoned by operators.

Lesser pointed to the example of Utah County’s Murdock Canal Trail, a multi-use path running from Highland to Orem. The project bolstered active transportation connections while simultaneously upgrading canal infrastructure to prevent water loss, Lesser said, but took roughly 10 years and considerable cost to complete.

“As we embark on the Utah trails network, we wanted to look at incorporating canals, where feasible, and making it a little more streamlined,” Lesser said. “At the same time [we can] consider water savings and replacing that failing canal infrastructure that our state engineers have long recognized.”

Lesser said that there are hundreds of canals traversing the state, some of which are as much as 100 years old and prone to evaporation, leakage and other inefficiencies. Her bill would facilitate piping the canals to run a trail above them, the construction of trails alongside waterways, or the purchase of decommissioned channels that could instead be used to facilitate sustainable travel through and between cities.

“Some of them are no longer functional as water conveyers,” Lesser said.

Similar to how old train routes have been converted into walking and cycling pathways—like Salt Lake City’s 9-Line, S-Line and Folsom trails—canals can offer an attractive and comparably low-effort route to promote cycling and walking, avoiding the threat of motor vehicle traffic and the cost to reconfigure major roadways while providing non-car access to community destinations. In Salt Lake, the McClelland Trail follows an old canal line from 9th and 9th to Sugar House, while a number of canal trails have been built or are planned to bridge the missing connections between trail and transit corridors like the Jordan River Parkway and Mountain View Corridor.

In recent years, Utah leaders have directed UDOT to significantly expand the number of trails in the state, a reflection of the state's strained highway capacity and the shifting tastes of residents, who are increasingly turning to electric bicycles and other mobility devices to travel for work, recreation and commerce. UDOT is in the early stages of expanding Interstate 15 between Salt Lake and Davis Counties, and has longterm plans to expand virtually every freeway and surface highway in its portfolio, but the department has acknowledged that those expansion will be insufficient to address travel demands as the state's population increases.

“One of the toughest things about doing a trail is getting the right of way,” said Leif Elder, a senior UDOT administrator. “It's pretty smart to leverage a canal corridor that’s already there and it just makes for a nice trail and connects you, perhaps, with other parts of your trail [network].”

The recommendation by the interim committee would place the legislation on a fast track toward passage when lawmakers convene in January for their annual legislative session.

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Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Bio:
Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

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