Streetcar line to boost Sugar House economy

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

The new UTA Street Car system is in the testing phase in Sugar House and businesses located near the line are anxious to benefit from increased foot traffic.

Last night, KSL’s Andrew Adams looked at the anticipated impact of the street car line, which is scheduled to open Dec. 8.

You can find KSL’s story here.

Chamber president reaffirms commitment to transportation

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

To strengthen the state economy, Utah must find a way to bridge the funding gap in the Unified 2040 Transportation Plan. That was the message delivered by Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie to the Legislative Transportation Interim Committee today.

“Utah really does need disciplined investments to address the critical transportation issues our state is and will face as our community continues to grow,” said Beattie.

Beattie says Utah finds itself with an “amazing document,” the 2040 Unified Transportation Plan. He says the key word is “unified.”

“The Salt Lake Chamber believes any funding proposal should recognize this disciplined and collaborative approach embodied by this unified plan,” said Beattie. “This unified funding approach should take into account the future needs of not only local roads, but also our state roads and transit needs.”

The Salt Lake Chamber’s Utah Transportation Coalition is working with key stakeholders to develop a five-year funding proposal that would balance the disciplined investments that our local roads and highways desperately need, provide for the capacity to accommodate future growth and bolster the amazing investments our community has already made in transit.

“We believe this funding must be transparent and stable, keep up with inflation, and be borne largely by users,” said Beattie.

Beattie re-emphasized that the Utah Transportation Coalition looks forward to working with the Legislature to ensure that we continue to make the disciplined and balanced investments in our transportation system to enable our community to prosper, economy to grow and to improve the quality of life for every Utahn.

Transportation investment could add 183,000 jobs to Utah’s economy

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Editor’s note: This article was written by Gaylen Webb for EDCUtah and appeared in the Utah Pulse on Oct. 8, 2013. 

A recent study by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston shows Utah could nearly double its return of investment on the state’s transportation infrastructure by 2040. Simply put: for every dollar spent on transportation infrastructure, the state could turn around an ROI of $1.94.

“Anytime you can trade someone $1 for $1.94, you make that trade,” says Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lane Beattie.

According to the study, which can be read here, if state and local governments and transportation agencies fully implement Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan 2011-2040, the result will be a dramatic and positive economic impact over the next three decades. In fact, if the Unified Transportation plan is fully funded, the state would see a return on investment of nearly 183,000 new jobs created in Utah by 2040. Those would include 55,000 construction jobs and more than 91,000 other jobs created by improvements in transportation performance. Another 17,000 jobs would be created by enhanced access to markets for Utah firms, and more than 19,000 jobs would be added by new businesses attracted to Utah because of improved transportation conditions.

“If you look at the sheer numbers, the outcome is pretty impressive,” says Marty Carpenter, executive vice president of communication at the Salt Lake Chamber. The study projects the state would experience:

  • $130.5 billion in additional household income
  • $183.6 billion in additional gross domestic product
  • $22 billion in additional tax revenues from economic growth

As Beattie points out, Utah would receive an estimated return on investment of $1.94 in non-construction GDP gain per $1 invested in transportation infrastructure. That is based on the analysis of private sector transportation costs that can be saved if the Unified Transportation Plan is implemented as envisioned. The comprehensive plan, which can be read here, has four strategic goals: preserve infrastructure, optimize mobility, improve safety and strengthen the economy.

“The Utah Unified Transportation Plan is really quite detailed,” says Carpenter. “It covers everything from smaller roads, bike paths and big rail projects–all of the things we should look at doing in order to have the transportation infrastructure that will support the population growth we can expect.”

The Economic Development Research Group’s study was commissioned by the Utah Transportation Coalition, a group started by the Salt Lake Chamber in 2012 to bring transportation stakeholders together with businesses that recognize the impact transportation infrastructure will have on their long-term ability to succeed. Carpenter says the coalition is working with elected officials, stakeholders and other businesses to help them understand there is a gap between the funds the state has committed for transportation infrastructure, recognize what is needed to fully fund the Unified Transportation Plan and to help them find ways to close the gap.

Utah currently has about $43 billion committed toward transportation infrastructure between now and 2040, when the Unified Transportation Plan would be finished. But, he says, a total of $54.7 billion is needed to create a transportation system that will allow Utah’s economy to reach its full potential.

“Our current funding leaves us a shortfall of $11.3 billion–the gap between what we need to have to maximize our return on investment and what we actually have planned,” he explains. “Based upon the study, if we can come up with that additional $11.3 billion, we get an extra 182,000-plus jobs created by 2040. Seventy percent of those jobs are attributable to improved transportation performance, while 30 percent are from construction spending.”

This isn’t the first time the Salt Lake Chamber has taken an active role in pushing for funds to improve Utah’s transportation infrastructure. The Chamber played a critical role in the passage of Proposition 3 in 2006, which accelerated the construction of the Mountain View Corridor and helped fund five TRAX light rail projects in Salt Lake County and the FrontRunner commuter rail project from the Intermodal Hub in Salt Lake into Utah County.

“As a business association, we recognize that the long-term economic strength of our state depends on our ability to maintain and continue to build a strong transportation infrastructure, particularly because we know our population is going to double in the next 30 years,” says Carpenter. “With that knowledge comes the responsibility to speak today about what the congestion could look like and what we can do about it. We must work today to make sure gridlock doesn’t happen.”

Utah is currently in a great position, he adds, because the state has invested well over the past decade and is ahead of the curve on transportation. Over the past 10 years strong partnerships have been forged, along with a strong understanding of the importance of transportation infrastructure. Nonetheless, without adequately funding the Unified Transportation Plan, Utahns can expect increased transportation stress and continued air quality problems as the population grows to an anticipated 3 million people along the Wasatch Front over the next three decades.

While adding more roads is only part of the transportation plan, Carpenter says it would be non sequitur for some people to connect additional roads with improved air quality. “You are going to have people in cars regardless,” he says. “Giving them more transportation options is essential, but so is keeping them from sitting in congestion. Cars sitting on over-crowded roads are still burning fuel and putting emissions in the air. If we keep cars and trucks moving as efficiently as possible, it saves commuters and businesses money and reduces the amount of emissions they put in the air.”

Carpenter says federal funding is declining as they work toward the $11.3 billion shortfall in transportation investment, but the study lays out a variety of alternative concepts. The Transportation Coalition, he notes, hasn’t settled on one particular mechanism. “We are more interested in showing the Legislature a number of options they have and to give our best counsel as to what those options will entail,” he says. “Ultimately, I am sure as that field of options narrows we’ll take a position, but at this point that is preliminary. It is more important to help lawmakers understand the issues we face, see what their options are, and present them with good information about the path forward.”

Chamber applauds SLC-UTA programs to increase transit ridership

Friday, October 4th, 2013

This morning, the Salt Lake Chamber took part in a news conference to announce a program to help Salt Lake City residents take advantage of transit opportunities. The program would increase the number of riders, provide reduced fare and have an impact in several important policy areas to strengthen our economy.

Chamber Executive Vice President Marty Carpenter told reporters there are two things the business community appreciates: when a great deal comes together so everyone wins and maximization of the return on an investment.

He says this agreement between SLC and UTA will further increase already strong ridership and will help more SLC residents utilize a world class transportation system.

As for maximizing ROI… that usually makes people think of the bottom line dollar amount–the profit. But that’s not always the case. The return on our investment in our transit system is greater than that, touching transportation (relieving pressure on our roads), energy (reducing our energy consumption), air quality (fewer tailpipes means cleaner air), economic development (preserving our natural beauty that attracts top talent and businesses from around the country) all while improving our health, to help contain the cost of health care.

It’s a winning deal for everyone.

The Chamber applauds Mayor Becker for his leadership and UTA for constantly finding new ways to run the nation’s best transit authority.

Here’s the official news release from the Mayor’s Office.

Mayor Proposes New Residential Transit Pass Program to Address Air Quality

SALT LAKE CITY – On Friday, Oct. 4, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker announced a fresh solution to help improve air quality – a new type of transit pass that may soon be available to Salt Lake City residents, helping minimize the number of car trips that contribute to poor air conditions.

Mayor Becker proposed an innovative partnership with Utah Transit Authority to offer the new transit pass option. Under the plan, Salt Lake City residents would be eligible to purchase a one-year transit pass for $360. Residents could pay all at once or in 12 installments of $30/month, charged to their utility bill. This would be the first pass to be offered to municipal residents as a group, although the plan is modeled after similar bulk pass programs offered by UTA.

The purpose of the pass is to incentivize use of mass transit and improve air quality. Studies show residents are more likely to utilize mass transit when they are pass-holders. The pass would be good for UTA’s regular bus, TRAX and FrontRunner services. In just six round trips per month, residents could break even on their investment. There would be no limit on the number of passes purchased per household.

Mayor Becker was joined for the announcement by Councilman Stan Penfold, the City Council sponsor of the proposal; Utah Transit Authority General Manager Michael Allegra; Breathe Utah Executive Director Erin Mendenhall; Salt Lake Chamber Executive Vice President of Communication Marty Carpenter and other community leaders. Attendees lauded the program as an important step toward creating sustainable solutions to Salt Lake City’s air quality challenges.

The residential pass is proposed as a one-year pilot program and, if approved by the City Council, is expected to launch in early 2014. UTA expects that up to 6,000 passes could be sold.

 

Bumpy road ahead for federal transportation dollars

Friday, September 27th, 2013

The strength of any economy is directly tied to its ability to move goods and people. Over the past several years, we’ve seen a big investment in transportation infrastructure boost the Utah economy.

Today the Salt Lake Chamber’s Utah Transportation Coalition is working to fully fund the 2040 Unified Transportation plan. But that effort comes at a time when the federal highway funds are declining.

We sat down with James Corless, the director of Transportation for America, to discuss the future of transportation funding and what Utah’s business community can do to make transportation a priority.

Rep. Greg Hughes: Anticipating Future Transportation Needs

Monday, September 9th, 2013

By LaVarr Webb

In his speeches on politics and public policy, Greg Hughes is fond of quoting hockey star Wayne Gretzky, who said that good hockey players skate to the puck. But great hockey players have a sixth sense that allows them to skate to where puck is going to be.

He applies that bit of hockey wisdom to his responsibility as chairman of the Utah Transit Authority board of trustees. “That’s what I want UTA to do. What will transportation needs be 10 to 15 years from now? What will my children and grandchildren need when they are adults and the population of the Wasatch Front has doubled? What technologies will be available? What will lifestyles be like? I want UTA to prepare to meet those needs.”

At first glance, Hughes appears to be the most unlikely champion of public transit. But there he is, a strongly conservative state legislator with a tough-guy, rough-and-tumble reputation – helping direct the affairs of Utah’s largest public transit agency. He is an unabashed supporter of transportation for the masses.

Hughes lives in Draper and represents a typical Salt Lake County conservative legislative district. He is rising in House leadership, currently third in line as Majority Whip. He has been a favorite among conservatives for some time, appearing on Red Meat Radio weekly to bash liberals and defend low taxes, free enterprise, and limited government. Perhaps in part because he experienced a much different lifestyle in the East, Hughes has embraced Utah’s conservative way of life with more zeal than many natives.

Hughes grew up in the inner city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the eldest child of a single mother who was rather free-spirited, as Hughes describes her. Hughes was raised mostly by his grandmother for the first five years of his life. But Hughes’ mother was visited by Mormon missionaries and she stopped smoking, changed her life, and thus Hughes was introduced to the LDS faith as a little boy. His mother married, divorced, had two more children, and he lived off and on with his grandmother.

“We were poor, my grandma and mother worked long hours, I had little supervision, and I had a bad habit of getting in trouble,” he recalls. “But there was the church, and my grandmother played a key role.”

There was also public transit. “We took the bus everywhere, to Pirate games, the zoo, trolleys to all sorts of places. Grandmother never owned a car in her life. I got to know all the routes and became very comfortable with mass transit. I saw who it helped, saw how we and other city people absolutely depended on it.”

However, the Wasatch Front isn’t Pittsburgh. “In 1991, I moved to Utah to go to college. I became a very conservative Republican. I had seen how unwise government programs can condemn generations to poverty and hopelessness, and I strongly believe that conservative principles offer the best hope to improve the human condition.” In Utah, Hughes was aware of the bus system, but initially didn’t pay much attention. “Salt Lake doesn’t look anything like Pittsburgh, nothing like what I saw in that densely populated area.” As the bus system added light rail, and as transit proponents encouraged expansion, Hughes became a critic, questioning whether a comprehensive and expensive transit system made sense for the Wasatch Front.

Then, in 2006, a legislative bill was passed allowing elected officials to be appointed to the UTA board of trustees, bringing new perspectives and elected official oversight to the board. Mayors in south Salt Lake County asked Hughes to serve as a trustee. “I warned them that I might be UTA’s worst nightmare. I wasn’t an advocate. It seemed like an overpriced social service. But they appointed me. I attended my first meeting skeptical of the entire operation.”

But over time, as Hughes engaged in his new assignment, studied transportation needs in the valley, and saw rapid population growth and the inability to build enough roads and highways to keep up, his attitude changed. “Some people say I drank the Kool-Aid. But the truth is the valley is filling up. Utah is one of the most urbanized and fastest-growing states in the country. Most of our people are concentrated along the Wasatch Front.

“In the Legislature we were having really important discussions about long-term funding for transportation, and how crucial a great transportation system is for a strong economy. I began to see how transit fits into the plan and how important it is. Good infrastructure is really a conservative issue. Government has a proper, even crucial, role in providing good infrastructure. Nothing is more fundamental. It’s a bread and butter issue and the economy depends on it.”

Hughes said UTA doesn’t compete with roads. “It’s not like we’re fighting for market share. We’re fighting to absorb the always-increasing numbers of commuters and our strong population growth. People are coming faster than we can widen roads. We’re barely staying afloat. We need good mobility.”

Hughes said UTA collaborates remarkably well with the Utah Department of Transportation, local governments, non-profits, and the business community. “We operate hand-in-glove. The planning process starts with local governments. We only build what they ask us to. In most states, agencies fight with each other, try to protect their turf. It’s me or you . . . you get tax money, I lose tax money. In Utah, we work together. We have a unified transportation plan. It’s why we’re successful.” He noted, for example, that the new Mountain View Corridor would not have been built without a public transit component. “UDOT worked cooperatively with UTA and local governments, and the result is a great new highway with transit elements to be built as the need arises.”

“So,” said Hughes, “I find myself as a conservative Republican supporting mass transit. It’s sometimes a bit lonely. Most of my fellow transit supporters are Democrats.” He said he bonded with former U.S. Ray LaHood, recently retired U.S. Secretary of Transportation, a public transit advocate who was previously a Republican congressman from Illinois. Hughes has made presentations before national groups on why conservatives should support mass transit.

While Hughes emphasizes the economic and job-creating values of public transit. He acknowledges the benefits of serving the low-income and disabled communities. “I’ve met with the advocates for poverty programs, and many people with disabilities. If we provide mobility to people who are struggling, so they can get to jobs and to services they need, that’s a great benefit to society.”

He also has a message for those who don’t use public transit and never will: “If you’re married to your car, you benefit far more than you think. Absent UTA, your commute might be twice as long. Think about all the cars taken off the road. UTA makes it possible for you to love your truck or car.”

Hughes strongly supported UTA’s recently-completed 2015 Frontlines program, in part, because he said it enables UTA to skate to where the puck will be. “By completing the five new rail lines, we now have a backbone that will serve the Wasatch Front for generations to come,” he said. “In coming years we can structure our bus system, bus rapid transit, and streetcars to take advantage of the backbone and provide great service.”

Hughes also views public transit investment as something future generations will appreciate more than older folks living today. “Young people are different. They are technology nerds. They don’t want to sit in traffic holding a steering wheel, they want to be connected on-line and communicating all the time.” He cites numerous studies showing that young people aren’t as interested in cars and driving as are their parents and grandparents. “We have a whole generation coming up that will enthusiastically embrace mass transit.”

UTA is the target of much criticism, and Hughes is acutely aware of it, especially regarding executive salaries and bonuses, travel, and a perception of service cutbacks. Part of it is to be expected, he said, because UTA is a very big operation, spending a lot of money, and touching the lives of tens of thousands of people every day. Any mistake is magnified. But he believes some of the criticism also results from misunderstanding UTA’s governance, mission and operations.

UTA isn’t really a powerful agency, Hughes said. “We don’t have taxing authority. We can’t condemn land. We receive direction on projects from local elected officials through their planning agencies. Everything we do has to be done through cooperation and persuasion. We have very little authority to exercise, so we have to convince the decision makers, show them best practices, show them a vision, show them what’s possible, and deliver what they want.”

To “skate to where the puck will be,” UTA leaders need to see what’s being done elsewhere in the country and the world and to talk to people building and using the most innovative projects. That requires some travel, but it’s well worth the cost, Hughes said, to bring the best practices in the world to the Wasatch Front.

He said the UTA staff is directed by a very active board of trustees made up mostly of elected officials, appointed by the governor, legislative leaders, and local mayors and county commissioners. “This is a strong, diversified board, accountable to taxpayers, not a rubber stamp to the staff,” Hughes said. “At the end of the day, the board is not vulnerable to the whims of politics. There is no pork, no shoveling dough to my district.” He said he is impressed with the professionalism of the board, how introspective it is, and how it demands staff excellence and best practices.

As chair, Hughes has emphasized transparency, opening committee meetings to the public, holding more public hearings and always posting agendas. “We do ask the hard questions, and we carefully weigh decisions before us.” The governance model, Hughes believes, allows UTA to be more entrepreneurial and move faster than if it was another state agency. The board has also been financially prudent he says. “We are financially stable. We can operate our 140 miles of rail and our entire bus system using existing revenue.”

The board demands top-tier staff leadership at UTA, Hughes said. “We are spending many millions of dollars and a few bad decisions can be very expensive. We expect our leaders to be among the best in the world. They have to deliver.”

Current general manager Mike Allegra, a UTA veteran of many years, topped the list of prospects to run transit agencies in other states, said Hughes. “They were looking for the best. He has great institutional knowledge. He could go anywhere he wants.” UTA’s leadership has saved hundreds of millions of dollars, Hughes said, by planning far ahead and by being strategic and entrepreneurial, Hughes said.

Three examples, Hughes said, include the relatively inexpensive purchase of railroad rights-of-way years ago, bringing in the multi-billion dollar Frontlines program $300 million under budget and two years early, and getting through a severe recession that dramatically reduced revenues without severe service cutbacks. “These things are proof that the management team is capable and well worth what they’re paid,” Hughes said. “These are big issues, big deals. Inexperience can cost many millions of dollars. We’ve done better than nearly any transit agency in the country. Citizens can be confident that UTA is accountable and well-managed.”

Looking ahead to where the puck will be, what will be needed for the next generation of transit riders, Hughes said it’s time to look seriously at mountain transportation, distance-based fares, cleaner and more modern buses, increasing frequency and convenience across the system, taking more steps to clean up Utah’s air, and keeping up with population growth.

Mountain transportation, which has now evolved into a broad-based planning project called Wasatch Summit, is important, Hughes said. “It’s a ways off, it’s expensive, but it’s a North America game changer. If you can fly to our international airport hub, get on public transportation, and in an hour be skiing at a world-class resort, without having to rent a car, worry about weather, deal with congestion and parking – that’s a big deal. Not to mention protecting the watersheds, clean air, and safety. No other state in the country will have that. It puts us on par with the great European resorts. That is skating to where the puck will be.”

Public transit can help deal with the Wasatch Front’s air quality problems, Hughes said, especially if, long-term, it’s coupled with good development and land use planning that results in clusters of mixed-use population centers where people can live, work, shop and play in walkable communities, connected by public transit. “If we don’t want to live in pea soup, we’re going to have to take many steps to clean up our air,” he said.

Hughes believes that UTA has a history of skating to where the puck will be. “That’s what people like John Pingree, John Inglish, and Ralph Jackson were thinking many years ago when they had a vision of a rail backbone, and that’s why we’re where we’re at today. I can’t pay enough respect for those visionary people who made it happen.”

So the tough-guy conservative from the streets of Pittsburgh who is fond of hockey metaphors asks: “So what will be our legacy? How will we accommodate three million people on the Wasatch Front? Will we make the right decisions today so that our children will have a strong economy and good jobs, and good mobility? As board chairman, I’m not going to just sit and watch. I’m not going to be a placeholder. I want us to be taking action to get to the next level.”

Members of Congress comment on America’s need for infrastructure overhaul

Friday, September 6th, 2013

The federal government has more things to pay for than it has money to pay for it. That’s how you end up with trillion dollar deficits and national debt of around $17 trillion. But those expenditures can be prioritized and investing in the key elements of a strong economy help generate the economic activity that can ultimately reduce the deficit and debt.

Businesses understand a strong economy requires a top-notch transportation infrastructure. Keeping goods and people moving is critical to our economic vitality as a nation. Utah may be the best example of the return on investment available for funding transportation projects. Over the past decade, Utah has widened I-15 in Davis and  Utah Counties, opened the Legacy Highway and added 70 miles of new commuter and light rail.

The result: one of the strongest economies in the nation is right here at the Crossroads of the West.

In this video, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce speaks with Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and Sen. John Boozman (R-AK) about the need to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure so that the U.S. can remain competitive in today’s global economy.

Utahns take to the trains

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

A pair of newspaper reports caught my eye this morning, both strengthening the case to support Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan 2040.

The first is from the Salt Lake Tribune from Fri., Aug. 30, the day after the Utes’ home opening victory over the Utah State Aggies. This was the first game UTA had accepted U of U football tickets as fare on the transit system. The result? A 27 percent increase in ridership.

The Tribune’s Lee Davidson reports TRAX had 84,109 boardings on Thursday, the day of the football opener between the U and Utah State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

That’s a great example of coordinated leadership and planning putting our transportation infrastructure to good use.

The second story, also published Aug. 30, reports a strong first week of operation for the recently-opened Draper TRAX line. Again, the Tribune reports ridership exceeded UTA’s expectations. That number is partly attributed to University of Utah student body heading back to class for the fall, with many students living in the Draper area.

If you’ll permit me momentary anecdotal evidence, I’m a regular FrontRunner rider with my commute beginning in northern Davis County. The trains are always a little more crowded the first few weeks of the fall semester, but they seem particularly full. By the time the commuter crowd from up north and the U students transfer to the Green Line train at North Temple, it makes for a rather full TRAX train.

More and more people, it seems, are ready to ride rather than drive. More people leaving their cars to ride the trains improves our air quality and opens more space on our freeways. That open space on the road means less traffic congestion. That’s also a big benefit to our clean air efforts. That balance is a benefit for everyone who uses our rails and our roads–especially as our population continues to grow.

SLC International rebuild ready for takeoff

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Members of the Salt Lake Chamber Utah Transportation Coalition got an inside look at the Salt Lake City International Airport’s $1.8 billion rebuild.

Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports welcomed the Utah Transportation Coalition and showed how the project will dramatically change this invaluable asset to Utah’s economy, our community and the way we travel for the better in the coming decades.

The group heard specifically from the Mike Williams, CEO of Making Projects Work and project manager of the airport rebuild. Williams presented with the current plans and future timeline, which begins this year and will complete by 2026.

The plans call for a staged but complete demolition of the existing terminals, parking structures and rental car facilities. The new airport will feature Utah’s great landscapes with the goal of achieving LEED Silver status or better. SLC International is regarded as one of the top airports in the world and this rebuild is designed to enhance that reputation through improve efficiency and security.  We applaud the airport’s efforts to collaborate with their industry partners to achieve this goal.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The group also heard briefly from Michael Allegra, general manager of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA). He discussed the brand-new airport TRAX line and future integration plans between the airport and TRAX. While the current line is an immense accomplishment for our community, future plans entail an extension of the line to allow passengers to board TRAX directly from the terminals.

UTA also recently announced that riders can park at several of their stations for the duration of their trip and utilize the airport TRAX line.

Finishing with a bang
The group received a demonstration from Airport Police Tactical Unit. This demonstration included a bomb-sniffing K-9 unit, the airport’s remote-controlled bomb disposal robot, and the tactical team’s firearms. After educating the group on various explosive devices terrorist organizations attempt to use, the demonstration finished with a bang as the team detonated these same devices in a controlled environment.

The Utah Transportation Coalition thanks its participating members, the Salt Lake Airport Advisory Board, the Airport Tactical Police Unit, and Maureen Riley and her team Salt Lake City Department of Airports.

Five lines in five years is one big success story

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Photo: Sec. of Transportation Anthony Foxx praises UTA at the opening of the Draper TRAX line.

Across the United States communities are still grappling with the effect of the recession. Many are facing slow growth, slashed government budgets and a stark outlook for the future.

But in Utah, the story is much different.

The state has a vibrant economy with job growth over two-times that of the nation, an unemployment rate that continues to decrease and a community that is rising up to become a national leader. Moreover, the metros along the Wasatch Front are outperforming even the state’s stellar economic performance, each ranking in the top echelon of metros across the country and are collectively powering our national recovery.

Many factors have contributed to this success story from a responsible and prudent legislature and executive branch, determined business leaders, and a resilient community. However, one cannot overlook our community’s commitment and vision for an efficient transportation system.

This vision, in part, has come to fruition this past week as the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) celebrated the completion of the fifth new transit-rail line in five years, the Draper TRAX extension. This is no small feat and our community should join UTA and citizens of the Wasatch Front in commemorating this momentous accomplishment.

Beginning with a ballot initiative in 2006, Utahns along the Wasatch Front were fed up with growing congestion and decided that investing in a top-notch transit rail system was vital to our future. When the recession hit and projects around the country stalled, UTA worked with their private partners to push their projects ahead. Today, the FrontLines 2015 program, which added 70 new miles of rail, has been completed nearly two years ahead of schedule and more than $300 million under budget.  This kind of commitment to excellence recently garnered the praise of the Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx.

“It means better access to jobs for hard-working families. It means less time stuck in traffic. It means that the air is cleaner and clearer. It means that this region — which is already one of the fastest-growing regions in the country — will be better prepared to handle more people as they make the Salt Lake City region their home,” Foxx said in the Salt Lake Tribune.

FrontLines 2015 added 70 miles of rail and finishes two years ahead of schedule and more than $300 million under budget

The value of these investments is also already paying off as we have connected our communities across the Wasatch Front. Commuters can now take FrontRunner for 80-plus miles from Pleasant View to Downtown Provo, students from Daybreak can now take TRAX straight to the campus at the University of Utah on the Red Line, and travelers from across the country can now take the Green Line from our international airport to downtown Salt Lake, West Valley or Draper all on transit.

This vision towards the future and the value of these investments will continue to increase in significance as our population across the state and especially the Wasatch Front is poised to nearly double. This growth will bring other challenges to our community. We must look at the vision our community had in 2006 as a template for the future once again.

Based on this template of prudent investments, the Utah’s Unified Transportation plan has provided an outlook for smart and sustainable transportation investments to keep our economy and community vibrant. This plan will require our state’s leaders and Utahns to rally around these investments and the funding they require to ensure we have a 21st Century transportation system that enables Utahns to enjoy remarkable life quality and prosperity.

The Utah Transportation Coalition, a business led movement to support investments in Utah’s transportation system, will continue to champion these investments and work with stakeholders from throughout our community. The Coalition, led by David Golden and H. David Burton, believes implementation of the Unified Transportation plan is critical to our future and commends UTA on its efforts to make that plan a reality.