A businessman says he's only months away from starting construction on a toll bridge across Utah Lake.
Leon Harward said the bridge will cost $300 million, but didn't say where he will get the money.
Harward, a partner for a private outfit called Utah Crossing Inc., is rejecting calls from skeptics to take out an insurance bond for the bridge's removal in case the project sours.
Harward insists the venture will be well-funded and won't fail, and that a bond isn't necessary. The bridge is meant to connect booming bedroom communities on the west side of Utah Lake with the Provo-Orem metropolitan area on the east.
Promoters have said it will serve a booming population that could reach a half-billion in 20 years.
Harward said that even in the worst-case scenario -- he builds a bridge and for some reason has to walk away -- the state will be left owning the bridge at no cost to taxpayers.
The group Utah Valley Earth Forum says Harward won't find a demand for bridge travel.
The history of toll roads and bridges in the U.S. is bleak, says Jim Westwater, chairman of the skeptics' group.
"Many of the toll roads and bridges that have been built around the country have failed financially," Westwater wrote Feb. 15 to Dick Buehler, director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands.
That agency controls Utah Lake.
"Given the current lack of need for such a bridge, it seems likely that this toll bridge could suffer the same fate," Westwater said.
He added, "Consequently, we ask that the state ... require the developers to provide full proof of funding for both construction and initial operating costs before finalizing any permits (and) require a full bond from the developer and any successors to provide for the complete removal of the bridge should it prove financially infeasible, or other causes render it dead in the water."
Harward said he was familiar with "the same diatribe" from skeptics he discounted as "tree huggers and squirrel squeezers." He asserted his most vocal critics want to return to the days of the horse and buggy.
I'm sure they meant to say a half million people, not a half billion.
But, those people who have built homes West of Utah Lake knew that there was only one road in and out of town. And, Utahns are notoriously thrifty. I can't see that many people paying to drive on a bridge.
Oh, and I realize that Utah Lake isn't the most beautiful structure in the world, but imagine how ugly a bridge over it will be.