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Northern Utah County Top 5: Growing pains bring on major adjustments in 2018

December 24, 2018

2018 was a busy year for northern Utah County cities, as they continued to plan for and adapt to the area’s burgeoning growth.

Growth is hitting the county in all aspects — from roads and traffic to overstuffed schools. Government and economic leaders expect that growth to move southward soon, but, for now, the north part of the county is feeling a significant amount of the growing pains. All but one of the top five stories from this area deal with growth.

5. Multiple missing hikers

The mountains claimed too many northern Utah County residents this year.

American Fork resident Jerika Binks, 24, was the first to go missing this year. She went out for a run Feb. 18 and never returned. The family first searched for her in and around American Fork, but further research unearthed images and cell phone pings that put her in American Fork Canyon that day.

Family, friends, search and rescue crews and even strangers spent the rest of the year searching for Binks — on foot, by helicopter, even by drones — all the way up until snow started falling last month. Binks, who is a white female, 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes, is still missing, much to her family’s despair. At the time of her disappearance, she was wearing black five-toed running shoes and a two-toned hooded sweatshirt, with dark gray on the back and light gray on the front and dark green leggings. The family updates the search for their daughter and sister on the Facebook page, https://facebook.com/findingJerika.

The mountains claimed two men this year as well.

The Lehi community mourned the loss of Ray Humpherys, a physical education teacher at Eaglecrest Elementary in Lehi. Humpherys went missing July 18 while camping with his family near Hidden Lake in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Search and rescue crews found his body almost a week later. As news of his passing broke, Eaglecrest students took a break from their summer vacations to head back to school to honor their teacher through hundreds of hearts and messages taped to the school’s doors and windows.

The hiking community came together in early November to find missing Pleasant Grove resident Derrik Jenkins. Jenkins, 28, was an avid trail runner and hiker who often hiked Utah’s mountain ranges alone. He headed into American Fork Canyon Halloween night on one such adventure, but did not return. Search and rescue crews found his body at the bottom of a steep embankment Nov. 3.

4. Farms and growth

Lehi is probably feeling the most growing pains in northern Utah County, and its handling of different aspects of that growth highlights the ongoing issues other cities may face as growth trickles down the county.

The Dixon mink farm in Lehi was a high profile example of old agricultural Utah roots clashing with the new tech-driven state. Dane Dixon’s family has been mink farmers on about 10 acres of unincorporated agricultural Utah County land in Lehi for more than 20 years. After a long and public fight about their agricultural protection status this summer, the family decided to drop its protection status.

Though they were still within their rights to continue their mink operation, the family threw in the towel and opted to sell their land. Ivory Ridge developers are under contract for the land and came before the Lehi City Council Dec. 11 to start the annexation process. Tentative plans for the space include single family homes.

3. Better roadway connections

The Murdock Connector, an important east-west road connecting American Fork to Highland, Alpine and Cedar Hills, finally was approved this year. The road’s route has been stymied for many years, but state legislators removed its final roadblocks in March. County legislators added their support as well in August. The road will serve as an important east-west corridor connecting Highland to American Fork between state Route 92 to the north, and 300 North on the south. Final plans for the placement of the road have not been completed yet.

Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs suffered long traffic waits and miles of orange cones as crews worked to widen Redwood Road. Construction is still ongoing there, and includes major changes along the route, including the Pioneer Crossing intersection.

2. Creating transit-oriented districts

To plan for continued growth in both their cities, Lehi and American Fork spent many hours this year creating and refining zoning for transit-oriented districts within their cities. County growth will necessitate more access to transit, and these leaders are anticipating a future with more Frontrunner trains and access to Salt Lake City’s TRAX system from this side of the Point of the Mountain.

Lehi opted to set aside multiple small pockets dedicated to TOD areas near possible future TRAX sites. Each TOD area incorporates higher density housing and mixed-use retail and commercial options.

American Fork spent months on their TOD zone, as it currently sits in an area that has been farmland for almost a century. American Fork staff and city council members worked long hours to plan a cohesive TOD anchored by the American Fork Frontrunner station. New development pops up almost daily there.

1. Construction on the Lehi Tech Corridor

The Lehi Tech Corridor — the section of Interstate 15 from Lehi Main Street to State Route 92 — jumped to the head of the line for Utah Department of Transportation projects this year, and for good reason. Anyone traveling to Lehi or over the Point of the Mountain knows the congestion pains of the area.

Construction to widen the freeway started in late March, and commuters have grown accustomed to orange cones and squiggly white lines marking the freeway’s ever-changing path as construction crews widen this section from four lanes to six lanes in both directions. The project is expected to be completed in 2020.

Lehi will continue to experience traffic congestion, but city and county officials hope redevelopment plans for cross sections at 2100 North, Triumph Boulevard and a completely redone interchange at SR 92 will relieve some of those problems.

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