Suburbia and the Freeway

Glen M. Leonard
The History of Davis County

Construction of north-south Interstate 15 through Davis County in the 1960s made the suburban development model a reality and eventually led to the rapid growth of Layton as a new commercial hub. By shortening travel time to Salt Lake City, the new freeway encouraged subdivisions in the middle of the county. The communities along the freeway’s route rightly envisioned a new incentive for growth. Interstate 15 made the greatest difference in the Centerville, Farmington, and Kaysville areas, which had lagged behind other parts of the county because of their distance from both Ogden and Salt Lake City. Also, as in the Syracuse region, a stable agricultural population existed in the central core. Small subdivisions began appearing in these central cities about the time the interstate began reaching into the county from the south. Suburban sprawl brought the first, small subdivision to Syracuse in that same decade.

The Federal Interstate Highway Act of 1956, which also expanded federal subsidies for major state highways, launched the national highway system during the Eisenhower administration. Washington paid 95 percent of the costs, making construction of the Davis County section not a matter of “if,” but “when.” The Davis County Planning Commission recommended a route that closely followed U. S. Highway 91, although in Bountiful and Layton it bypassed the established highway in order to avoid displacing businesses. North of Layton, the proposed route followed the abandoned Bamberger Railroad line. The Ogden Chamber of Commerce preferred the Mountain Road (U. S. Highway 89) north of Farmington. The state hired a San Francisco engineering firm to study the options. The company found the lower route a shorter distance to military job centers and less costly to build than a route through the mouth of Weber Canyon. Because Congress had designated the national system as both an interstate and a defense highway, the more direct route through Davis County was approved.

A new Beck Street overpass at the county line was built in two parallel segments in 1955–58 as part of Highway 89/91 and was later widened and integrated into the interstate system. Similarly, portions of the interstate between Bountiful and Layton were upgrades of an existing “super highway” that the state had built as a four-lane divided highway in the early 1950s.

Because of the urgency of providing for increased traffic between Salt Lake City and Ogden, the Utah State Road Commission chose a six-mile section in south Davis County to be Utah’s first highway built to interstate standards. In a ceremony in North Salt Lake in January 1958, Governor George D. Clyde launched the project by driving a bulldozer into Amasa Howard’s ninety-year-old dairy barn to clear a route for the new $7.3-million segment. Utah’s first section of six-lane divided interstate highway reached north to Pages Lane and was completed in 1962. The original plan did not include an interchange between Bountiful and Lagoon. Through the efforts of Centerville City officials, however, one was added at Parrish Lane to serve local residents. Hearings on the 6.4-mile segment between Pages Lane and Lagoon were held beginning in 1963, but plans were not ready for bidding for another six years. Northbound lanes on that $10.1-million section opened late in 1971 and the southbound side opened the following year.

Meanwhile, the northern sections of Interstate 15 were being built from the Weber County line south to Layton. Widening and resurfacing the existing section of Highway 91 from Layton to Lagoon was accomplished in 1977 as a $9.9 million project. With the route finished through Davis County, motorists could travel on an uninterrupted interstate from northern Juab County to northern Box Elder County. Long freeway stretches in other parts of the state would not see completion until the early 1990s.

Meeting transportation needs remained one of the pressing concerns for Davis County citizens as the twenty-first century approached. Fearing a gridlock situation because of increased traffic on the arterial routes, highway officials and local governments explored options for increasing highway capacity and improving mass-transit options. Countywide planning for major transportation routes had begun with the growth surge in the 1950s. To prevent a choking of existing arterial routes and to create a scenic drive, in 1951 the county planning commission proposed a new foothills highway through the county along Highway 89 from Weber Canyon to Fruit Heights, and then along the old Lake Bonneville terrace to Bountiful, with links to Highway 91 and around Ensign Peak to the state capitol. Salt Lake County planners extended the route along the old Lake Bonneville terrace to connect with Salt Lake City’s Wasatch Boulevard and then plotted a route all the way into Utah County. At first called Wasatch Drive, the proposed route eventually came to be known as Bonneville Drive. The concept of a valley-rim route was included in Davis County master plans of the 1960s and 1980, along with a proposed lowlands highway along the shore of the Great Salt Lake. Opposition from Salt Lake County eventually stymied efforts to realize a multicounty Bonneville Drive. The shoreline route took on the name of Salt Lake County’s West Valley Highway and became a much-discussed topic in the 1990s as population growth in north Davis County surged.

The shoreline route was named the West Davis Highway by county planners and then renamed the Legacy Parkway by Governor Michael Leavitt, who included it as part of a proposed 120-mile route extending from Brigham City to Nephi. Beginning in the early 1990s, Representative Marda Dillree, a Republican from Farmington, became a regular voice in the Utah Legislature in favor of the western route and an active proponent seeking solutions for the Highway 89 issues. As chair of the Transportation and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee in the mid-1990s, she urged legislative action to provide funding to solve the problems. Representative Don Bush (R-Clearfield) headed the House Transportation Committee, another key position of help to Davis County. Local officials worked through the Davis Council of Governments to draw attention to the needs. Republican Congressman James V. Hansen, a Farmington resident, added his support to the effort to unclog a congested I-15 in central Davis County. That bottleneck, he said, should be the state’s top highway priority.

Location and wetlands issues stalled the West Davis Highway. Centerville and Farmington residents were most concerned about its placement. Because the first stage of construction would end in Farmington, the road needed a junction with I-15 and Highway 89 near Lagoon. That intersection would displace a new city road shop and dominate the landscape just outside Farmington’s historic downtown district. Centerville planners wanted to push the highway west against the lake, but conservationists preferred a more easterly route to limit encroachment on wildlife preserves and federally protected wetlands. As the south-end debate ended in a temporary deadlock, city officials in Syracuse and West Point acted to divert developers and protect a hundred-foot swath for a transportation corridor adjacent to Bluff Road for a future extension of the highway.

An aging Interstate 15 also needed attention during the 1990s. A number of rehabilitation projects replaced and patched deteriorating concrete and replaced some asphalt shoulders along the entire span of the thirty-year-old route. Motorists grumbled over the delays and wondered what they had gained when the repair crews left and the freeway still lacked the additional lanes many of them thought it needed. The idea of adding one lane in each direction received strong support from Davis County citizens—80 percent of respondents in a Deseret News poll in 1995 liked the idea. Cities in all parts of the county encouraged action on the plan through the Davis County Council of Governments and the Wasatch Regional Council.

Highway planners had designated start-up funds for the West Valley Highway as a higher priority, citizens were told. However, when progress on the controversial western route stalled, Governor Leavitt made the addition of two lanes on the I-15 stretch from 2600 South in Bountiful to 200 North in Kaysville first on the transportation agenda. Part of the $260 million tagged by the Utah Transportation Commission for the West Davis Highway between Salt Lake City and Farmington was diverted to widening Interstate 15. The freeway from the I-215 merge to the south county line had already been expanded. Also, meters installed in 1996 at three on-ramps in Bountiful and Centerville helped regulate merging traffic during the morning rush hour.

“Widening I-15 in Davis County will not replace the need to build the Legacy Parkway,” a Deseret News editorial noted, “it just buys the state some time.” Highway officials estimated that a widened interstate would handle increased traffic until about 2004. Freeway traffic in south Davis County had climbed by one-third in the four years between 1994 and 1998. The traffic flow of more than 115,000 cars a day was expected to continue growing by at least eight percent a year. Planning would continue on the four-lane Legacy route and possible light rail and commuter rail systems. The $50 million interim solution was slated for a summer 1999 construction start. Some Layton officials urged the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to continue the widening project northward, but the suggestion was rejected. The decision to go ahead with a short-term solution postponed for five years the full reconstruction of I-15 in Davis County; UDOT moved its start date for that project to 2008.

See: Michael Mclane, “Taking the Waters: Lost Leisure on Salt Lake City’s Beck Street,” Utah Historical Quarterly 87, no. 1, 2019,