‘Too many straws in the cup’: What Tooele’s growth means for water, traffic, quality of life

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Courtesy of Tooele County

TOOELE (ABC4) – It’s no secret that Utah is growing, and the expansion is not just in major metropolitan areas like Salt Lake City anymore. More remote areas like Tooele County are also following suit. According to Jared Stewart, Tooele City’s Economic Development Coordinator, the region has seen immense growth in the last few years.

“We have seen, for a couple of years, an increased number of residential and commercial business building permits,” he says. “You can definitely see that there is an increase in growth and it’s speeding up in Tooele.”

According to Stephanie Bothell, a Coldwell Banker realtor who has lived and worked in Tooele for the last 20 years, this growth is an offset of the housing boom in Salt Lake City. Because homebuyers – especially those purchasing for the first time or looking to expand into a larger residence – are getting priced out of the Salt Lake market, they are looking to Tooele as a more affordable option.

 “The Salt Lake Valley is hemmed in on two sides with the mountains, and we’re pushing both sides of those mountains. We have to go farther afield to find homes, and Tooele has historically had lower home prices than the other side of the Oquirrhs in the Salt Lake Valley,” she says.

Earlier this month, ABC4.com reported the groundbreaking of a new 86-acre development – called Lexington Greens – in Tooele. Residents of Tooele and surrounding Utah communities voiced concern over the new growth, specifically anticipating effects on infrastructure, quality of life, and already scarce water resources.

Tooele is a city of just over 34,000 residents, and to access the town, there is currently only one road, Utah State Highway 36.

Bothell says that – though there are impact fees in place that encourage developers to fund a portion of new infrastructure required to service a region experiencing growth – in most cases, some elements of the transportation framework come later.

“We’re not going to get UDOT to build more roads until we get more rooftops,” Bothell explains.

But according to Stewart, the Utah Department of Transportation has just completed phase one of a three-phase project that will hopefully provide an alternative route in and out of Tooele. The new route is called the Midvalley Highway. After the completion of phase one, the route creates a new exit off I-80 between the Tooele and Grantsville exits. Bothell hopes the Midvalley Highway will aid in preventing traffic jams on Highway 36.

Another way Tooele aims to reduce traffic is to create more long-term, career-oriented jobs in the area so residents don’t have to commute in and out of Salt Lake City every day. According to Stewart, three major companies – Carvana, Plastic Ingenuity, and KCC International – have staked a claim to the area and plan to provide hundreds of jobs to residents.

Another concern voiced by locals is the lack of water resources in the region. Tooele is self-sufficient when it comes to water resources, meaning they are reliant on wells in the areas. Although the new Lexington Greens Development has secured their water rights – which were carefully approved by city officials and the state water engineer – and water isn’t an issue now, even with the growth that is anticipated, both Stewart and Bothell both say it will be a concern in the future.

“At some point, the water will be an issue,” Bothell says. “Water is a finite resource, and especially in times of drought like we’re in when our aquifers are not being replenished, that does start to become an issue.”

Tooele officials are thinking ahead to come up with solutions for the lack of water. Although Stewart says there are no confirmed solutions yet, Tooele has been collaborating with other communities in the area to brainstorm solutions. Ideas that have been raised include drilling new wells, connecting water resources with surrounding communities, and eventually, relying on water that will come from outside of Tooele Valley.

“I don’t know where that will come from yet; maybe that comes from the Salt Lake Valley, maybe that comes from south of Tooele Valley,” says Stewart. “That’s the long-term solution, to bring water from outside of the valley. You can always drill more wells, but at a certain point, you get too many straws in the cup and that’s kind of the reality of it.”

Along with water and traffic, Tooele residents are also worried about their quality of life as the area continues to grow. Tooele provides locals with a break from the hustle and bustle of Salt Lake City, as well as access to open space and the opportunity to own more land. Even with the growth, though, Stewart says the city is investing heavily in the development and maintenance of parks and trails and open space. The city has even secured over $300,000 in funding for such projects.

“That’s something that we really value out here, too, is making sure that as we grow, we try to maintain that small-town feel,” Stewart says.

Still, growth in Tooele means that things will change. The Lexington Greens Development, which will have over 630 new dwellings, has just begun the building process. And if state trends are to be believed, the area will only continue to grow.

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