How are local governments funding roads?

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Keeping up with rising costs and flat revenue: how are local governments funding roads?

With 43,000 miles of public roads in Utah it is hard to imagine how to keep all of the infrastructure maintained. This week on “The County Seat,” Terry Wood discusses the topic of road funding with:

• Ron Whitehead, public works director Washington County
• Jim Eardley, Washington County Commissioner
• Cameron Diehl, Utah League of Cities and Towns

What are the challenges of funding roads in Utah and what options have been discussed in the past and the present. What will the picture look like in the future?

Time to raise Utah’s motor fuel tax

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Editor’s note: This article was written by Natalie Gochnour, associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber. It was originally published on the Deseret News

Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.

This quip, made by Louisiana Sen. Russell Long, captures Utah’s approach to the motor fuel tax. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for 17 years. It’s time for a serious and informed discussion about raising Utah’s motor fuel tax to make up for lost purchasing power and improved fuel efficiency.

I’m not alone in this viewpoint. Several conservative legislators, like Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, and Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, have proposed changes to Utah’s gas tax this session. And with good reason. Unlike sales or income taxes, which increase with the price level, the motor fuel tax loses purchasing power over time because it is a per-gallon tax. In inflation-adjusted terms it’s dropped from 24.5 cents per gallon in 1997 (the last time it was raised) to 16.9 cents per gallon today, a 45 percent loss in buying power.

Making matters worse, passenger cars are becoming more fuel-efficient — a good thing except when it comes to paying for the impacts. For every gallon consumed, more wear and tear is placed on the roads. The average fuel efficiency of U.S. passenger cars has increased from 28.7 miles per gallon in 1997 to 35.6 today.

Bottom line: You have to periodically raise the motor fuel tax just to stay even. Staying even is not a tax increase.

And let’s be honest. We have to do a lot more than stay even. Utah’s population grows by approximately 50,000 people each year. Ninety-one percent of Utahns live in urban settings. We have urban problems like traffic congestion and air pollution. If we don’t take care of our road maintenance needs we increase our costs in the future. We must make mighty investments in transportation to support commerce and maintain our life quality.

The Utah Legislature understands this. They’ve invested substantially in Legacy Parkway, I-15 in Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties and other projects throughout the state.

But it’s come at a cost.

We’ve borrowed huge sums of money increasing our net general obligation debt per capita from $434 just five years ago to $1,161 today. Today our debt ratio is second highest among Moody’s AAA-rated states. This year in the Transportation Investment Fund we will spend more money on debt service than on projects. We can’t borrow more and remain fiscally responsible.

We’ve also earmarked record amounts of sales tax to transportation projects. In 1997, the state earmarked less than $10 million of sales tax revenue. Today, we earmark over $450 million. We can’t earmark any more and adequately fund other needs.

That leaves us with four options: do without (not a good choice for the economy), take from other government services like education (ill-advised when investment is already low), raise general taxes (poor choice in an uncertain economy) or adjust the motor fuel tax to recover lost purchasing power.

Raising the motor fuel tax is by far the best option.

The motor fuel tax is a user fee. Unlike most government services, transportation is metered at every pump. It you drive more, you pay more. That’s fair. If you pay more, you are incentivized to use less — a good thing for congestion and air quality. Such is the magic of a user fee. It brings the power of market forces to the provision of government services.

Some will say the motor fuel tax is a dying revenue. I disagree. It’s only dying if the Legislature refuses to act. Some will say motor fuel taxes hurt low-income families. Let’s find other ways to help them. Some will say it’s an election year and the Legislature won’t entertain a tax increase. Maybe so, but when you kick the can down the road the pile gets bigger and bigger.

The Utah economy benefits from transportation infrastructure. We need to have the foresight to have users pay for it.

Photo credit: futureatlas.com

OP-ED: Give Utah cities power to increase transit funding

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Editor’s note: This op-ed was written by A. Scott Anderson, CEO and president of Zions Bank, and published in the Deseret News here

Air quality is one of the biggest issues facing the 2014 legislative session. “Red Air” days damage our health and keep sensitive people from enjoying the outdoors. Poor air quality is also hurting Utah’s economic development and tourism.

Many groups, including the Salt Lake Chamber, are working to improve air quality, and progress is being made. The Legislature could take another significant step forward by giving local governments an important tool to help clean the air along the Wasatch Front. It is one of the simplest, yet highly effective, things lawmakers could do for clean air in this session.

The Legislature should lift the cap on local-option sales tax funding for public transit and transportation, giving local governments, and ultimately voters, an important tool they need to combat dirty air.

Many citizens and local leaders would like to expand transit services in their communities, making it more convenient and frequent, thus taking cars off roads and improving air quality. But some counties are at the limit of what they can ask voters to approve for public transit, so they need the Legislature to lift the cap. Any additional funding would require approval by voters in an election.

In providing this critical tool, the Legislature would not be increasing taxes, or even authorizing a vote on taxes. They would simply be giving local leaders — and voters — some flexibility in combating dirty air. Local leaders, along with citizens, could decide if air quality and mobility are important enough to ask voters if they wish to increase sales tax funding for public transit. It would be entirely optional, and voters would have the final say.

We know that 57 percent of air pollution during inversions is emitted from vehicles. Less driving means better air quality. We know that increased use of public transit can make a real difference. Here are some facts:

· Transit currently takes more than 120,000 cars off Wasatch Front roads daily, the equivalent of more than 850,000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) eliminated daily, netting about 1,500 tons of emissions eliminated annually.

· If Wasatch Front residents used transit instead of driving the equivalent of just one day per week for work and college trips, weekday ridership would triple, taking another 240,000 cars off the roads each day, saving 10 million VMT daily and reducing vehicle emissions by 3,000 tons annually.

· Across the entire Wasatch Front, transit accounts for about 5 percent (90,000) of total daily work and college trips. For every 1 percent increase, 16,000 new transit trips would be added, 14,000 vehicles would be removed from the roads each day, with more than 103,000 VMT eliminated daily and about 88 tons of emissions reduced annually.

If the Legislature lifts the cap, and citizens decide they want more public transit, then cities, counties, and Wasatch Front planning organizations are well-prepared to direct the Utah Transit Authority to use additional funding in ways that will significantly improve transit convenience and frequency, increasing ridership and helping improve air quality.

Improvements can come quickly. Studies and experience in other markets show that when buses come by more frequently, with more stops in more neighborhoods, with fewer required transfers, ridership increases significantly.

But increased transit frequency and convenience will require more investment. Most Wasatch Front peer regions (Denver, Dallas, Houston, Austin) fund their transit systems at the sales tax equivalent of a penny per dollar. Wasatch Front counties currently vary between 1/2 and 5/8 of a penny. If public transit was funded at a full cent, as recommended in the state’s Unified Transportation Plan, UTA could quickly increase service of existing bus and train lines, double ridership within a few years, and increase transit access for more than 275,000 additional households. Many high-use routes would see service every 10 to 15 minutes.

I’m not suggesting the Legislature raise taxes or even authorize a vote for more taxes. That would be left entirely to local governments and voters. Lifting the cap would provide this important tool to local governments. In the interest of improved air quality and mobility, I encourage lawmakers to do so.

Primary seatbelt law would save lives

Monday, January 13th, 2014

 

By LaVarr Webb

Carlos Braceras is Utah’s chief road builder. He also handles a host of other transportation-related tasks as director of the Utah Department of Transportation. But Braceras has a big passion beyond road-building. He also wants to keep people alive and uninjured as they drive on Utah’s roads and highways.

Automobile-related crashes are one of Utah’s biggest causes of premature death. Crash injuries wreak further havoc on individuals and families. So while Braceras, an engineer by training, loves big construction projects and is proud of UDOT’s record of highway-building and maintenance, he has taken on a personal crusade to prevent highway deaths and injuries.

“Even one death on the highway is one too many,” says Braceras, who was appointed UDOT director in May, 2013, by Gov. Gary Herbert. “Knowing the anguish, heartache and financial hardships caused by traffic injuries and deaths, I’m not willing to tolerate even one death. A death is not just a statistic. It’s a real person with family and loved ones. I’m not willing to accept that anyone needs to die in an automobile accident.”

Braceras fully understands that to completely eliminate automobile injuries and deaths will be difficult,. But he notes one simple thing could be done by every driver and passenger that would make an immediate real difference.

Buckle up.

Buckling up is simple, easy, doesn’t cost a dime, takes little time — and saves lives and prevents serious injuries.

“In 2012, 217 people died on Utah roads,” Braceras said. “The most common contributing factor was a failure to buckle up. The best thing people can do to stay safe even in a crash to always wear a seat belt.”

The 217 deaths aren’t just a statistic to Braceras. He knows they represent fathers, mothers, children, and friends who leave a big hole in a family, creating sorrow, heartbreak and financial difficulties. The overall cost to society of one fatality is estimated to average $1.1 million.

Because seat belt use has been proven to reduce injuries and deaths on the road, Braceras is a strong proponent of a proposed Primary Seatbelt Law, which may be discussed in the upcoming legislative session. Motorists and passengers are already required by law to wear seatbelts, but use is more casual than it should be because ignoring the law is not a “primary” infraction. Law enforcement personnel, for example, cannot pull over a driver for not using a seatbelt. Some other infraction must be suspected to enforce the seatbelt requirement.

National statistics show that average seatbelt use is 12 percent higher in states with a primary seat belt law. Research shows that in Utah about half of the unbuckled fatalities in 2012 – 39 people – could have been saved if a seat belt had been properly used.

The Utah Highway Patrol and a number of other groups also support a primary seatbelt law.

Braceras notes that highways and automobiles are safer today than ever before. When accidents and deaths are measured against increased highway miles traveled, far fewer deaths and injuries occur on the highways today than any time in the past. Additional technological advances on both highways and automobiles will continue to make driving safer.

And yet, every day multiple crashes occur on Utah roads and highways. On most days, someone is killed. And a significant number of deaths and injuries could be prevented if motorists would simply buckle up. A primary seatbelt law would save lives every year, Braceras says.

Some people argue that a primary seatbelt law would restrict personal freedom. But it isn’t just a matter of endangering oneself, say highway safety experts. Unbuckled drivers and passengers also put others at risk.

In a crash, unbuckled drivers and passengers can become projectiles, increasing the risk of hurting or killing others in the car by 40 percent.

Drivers in a crash or sliding on a slick road are vastly better able to stay in the driver seat and maintain control of the vehicle if they are wearing a seatbelt, preventing rollovers and crashes with other vehicles.

For more information, see UDOT’s  ZERO Fatalities program: http://ut.zerofatalities.com

 

The 2014 Public Policy Guide and business priorities released

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The Salt Lake Chamber released the business community’s priorities for the upcoming General Legislative Session within the 2014 Public Policy Guide. The Public Policy Guide was presented to the speaker of the House of Representatives Rebecca Lockhart and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser Wednesday morning. The guide outlines the Chamber’s position on policy issues including economic development, education, transportation, water, energy and minerals, clean air, outdoor recreation and tourism, Downtown Rising, immigration, international competitiveness, and small business.

“The 2014 Public Policy Guide is a Chamber publication, but it represents the broad-based support of chambers of commerce across the state as well as other important business associations,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. “These are the priorities of Utah’s diverse business sectors from across the state and it’s critical that we speak with one voice.”

View and download the 2014 Public Policy Guide PDF here.

Economic Development 
Economic development and job creation is the cornerstone priority for Utah’s business community. The 2014 Public Policy Guide highlights and supports the “Your Utah, Your Future” quality growth strategy, initiated by Gov. Gary Herbert and Envision Utah, in taking the long-term view on public policy issues. The guide also outlines priorities that will facilitate economic growth and strengthen the economy, including a continued stance against general tax increases not supported by the public, a commitment to eliminating harmful regulation and a collaborative challenge to enhance Utah’s competitiveness through attracting regional corporate headquarters to the state.

“Utah’s economy is extremely well-positioned for continued growth in 2014. The private-sector is set to accomplish the significant goal of creating 150,000 jobs since the recession–more than a year ahead of schedule,” said Natalie Gochnour, chief economist of the Salt Lake Chamber and associate dean of the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business. “However, Utah’s economy faces economic headwinds from our nation’s capital and risks economic hardship if we do not address our education system and transportation infrastructure.”

Prosperity 2020
An educated workforce has a direct correlation with economic prosperity and is a top priority for Utah’s business community. To be globally competitive, Utah must return to a top-10 state in overall education rankings. To meet this challenge, the Chamber outlines key priorities to improve: 4th grade reading scores; 8th grade math scores; high school completion and college and career readiness; innovative teaching in public education; and Utah’s ability to reach 66 percent of Utahns with postsecondary degrees or certificates.

“Investing in our children is the best investment we can make as a community,” said Alan Hall, Chair ofProsperity 2020, founder and co-managing director of Mercato Partners, and chairman of Marketstar. “Facing unprecedented growth, we need to ensure that the largest population of young people in the country will be deployed as the best educated workforce, propelling Utah to enduring prosperity.”

Prosperity 2020 and the business community, through school-business partnerships, can improve school environments and boost outcomes for students. In addition to advocacy, the Utah business community has developed partnerships that support our education system and improve outcomes. The guide highlights how businesses across the state are becoming directly involved in the educational success of Utah’s children through a myriad of partnerships, including tutoring students, volunteering in classrooms, sponsoring activities, advising programs of study, providing internships and funding scholarships.

“Utah’s business leaders understand the urgency of addressing our education challenges,” said Beattie. “As a strong backer of the Prosperity 2020 movement, we are very supportive of the priorities and commitment of the Legislature’s Education Taskforce and will work to make these policies a reality.”

Transportation
Recent completions of major transportation initiatives have made Utah a national example in our commitment to disciplined planning and investment in transportation infrastructure. As one of the fastest growing states in the nation, continued investments are critical to economic growth and accommodating future generations of Utahns.

“Our community continues to rapidly grow,” said H. David Burton, co-chair of the Utah Transportation Coalition.  “We must act now to ensure future generations can enjoy economic prosperity and a high quality of life.”

The guide outlines support for a five-year action plan to fully fund Utah’s prioritized transportation needs identified in Utah’s 2040 Unified Transportation Plan. This action plan includes allowing local governments to address their urgent transportation challenges, investments to improve our transit system, and a call for the expansion and inflation-adjustment of user fees to meet critical needs.

“Investments in transportation infrastructure benefit every aspect of our economy,” said David Golden, co-chair of the Utah Transportation Coalition, and executive vice president and manager of Wells Fargo Commercial Banking Group’s Mountain Division. “The need for investment is critical and requires immediate action in order to sustain and enhance our world-class business and economic climate.”

Natural Resource Business Council
Utah’s spectacular natural environment is a legacy passed to us from preceding generations and is a key component of the state’s economy and high quality of life. The guide is the debut of the Chamber’s Natural Resource Business Council, which represents a comprehensive approach to the state’s natural environment and important sectors of Utah’s economy. The Chamber’s clean air and energy and minerals task forces, as well as two new Chamber initiatives in Water and Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, are organized under the Council.

“Utah’s natural resources provide Utah families with unparalleled life quality and economic opportunities,” said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser. “We owe future generations our best stewardship efforts to ensure they enjoy the same advantages we now enjoy.”

The Natural Resource Business Council priorities include developing a long-term vision on Utah’s water needs, enhancing rural economic development, improving transportation options to Utah’s energy rich Uinta Basin, supporting Utah’s tourism marketing and addressing air quality issues.

Specifically, the guide highlights the Chamber’s support for: the PM2.5 State Implementation Plan, increased transportation funding to improve our transit system and reduce idling on Utah’s roadways, cleaner vehicles, increased efforts for public awareness and research, and incentives to facilitate small businesses’ participation in emission reductions.

“Air quality for many Utahns’ is the state’s most pressing issue,” said Beattie. “Clean air makes good business sense and the Utah business community is committed to being a champion for improving our air quality.”

The 2014 Public Policy guide is available online at www.slchamber.com/PPG2014.

Here are some photos from the event where we presented speaker of the House of Representatives Rebecca Lockhart and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser:

Rep. Johnny Anderson: A Transportation Champion

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

By LaVarr Webb

When Johnny Anderson was growing up in Taylorsville, he was interested in current events and politics, but he didn’t have personal political ambitions. As he began raising his own family in Taylorsville and starting a business, he had no expectation of running for office.

But Anderson ended up getting involved in politics in a natural way, starting at the grassroots level out of concern for his business and industry. From those beginnings, Anderson was appointed to the Utah House in 2009 and, even though he’s a relative newcomer, now serves as chair of the House Transportation Committee.

Anderson built a child care business with his mother, first opening a home care center in Taylorsville, then in 1992 opening a child care center in West Valley City. The business has grown to eight locations, making it the largest child care operation in the state.

Child care centers are heavily regulated, so Anderson became involved in the industry association. “I enjoyed networking and I found we all faced a lot of the same challenges as small businesses.” He was elected vice-chair of government relations. “I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I started dealing with the licensing bureau and state laws dealing with our industry, and I found governmental processes to be quite intriguing.”

Anderson, who calls himself a moderate Republican, came to understand the importance of the Legislature and that his industry needed to develop relationships, educate lawmakers, and increase its influence. “We encouraged people to get involved in the caucus process and get elected as delegates to provide more awareness of our industry,” he said. “I was elected as a state delegate and I supported the Huntsman-Herbert ticket, especially because Gary Herbert was a member of our association at the time. He and his wife had a child care business.”

Anderson also was selected to serve on the board of the national child care association and became involved in federal-level government relations. “I found it very interesting and enjoyed getting to know how government works and developing relationships with elected leaders.”

At the time, Kory Holdaway represented District 34 in the Taylorsville area of western Salt Lake County. “I liked Kory’s approach to politics and I had a good relationship with him. He would listen to our issues and was dedicated to supporting education and young people.”

When Holdaway resigned to take a job with the Utah Education Association, he contacted Anderson and encouraged him to run for the job. “I first said no, but after talking to my family and considering whether I could make a contribution, I agreed to run.”

Anderson had served as legislative district chair in District 34, so he knew most of the delegates. Five other candidates also sought the position, but he worked hard, won the support of delegates, was appointed by the governor in 2009, and was elected in his own right in 2010. “I’ve had four sessions so far. My industry involvement was really helpful, and veteran legislators have taken me under their wing. It has been a great experience.”

The district Anderson represents is a swing district, and Anderson will seek re-election in 2014. He usually has tough races and he believes his contest in the No. 1 legislative target for Democrats.

Anderson said he likes House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart’s collaborative leadership style, and he has supported her since arriving at the Legislature. He was appointed to serve on the Transportation and Education committees, and after a few sessions Lockhart appointed him vice-chair of Transportation, with veteran Rep. Brad Daw as chair. “I really enjoyed working with Brad,” Anderson said. “Then when he moved on I was in the top half in committee seniority, so Speaker Lockhart asked me to be chair.”

Anderson has immersed himself in transportation issues, and has become an advocate for excellent transportation infrastructure. “Good mobility, which results from adequate transportation investment, is absolutely key to a strong economy. Even in the child care business, we have to care about transportation because we have a fleet of buses that need to get around the valley,” he said. “Every business owes its success, in part, because visionary leaders have built great infrastructure. Mobility is one of Utah’s key assets, and we need to keep the momentum moving forward. Building transportation infrastructure is one of the genuinely proper roles of government.”

Anderson said Utah has world-class transportation agencies and metropolitan planning organizations, and he appreciates their work in developing the 2040 Unified Transportation Plan, which maps out the state’s major transportation projects and funding needs over the next 30 years. “The 2040 Plan is a great example of local governments, transportation agencies and the business community working collaboratively to ensure good mobility,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in many places in the country, and it’s a real advantage for Utah.”

Anderson’s interim Transportation Committee, which he co-chairs with Sen. Kevin Van Tassell of Vernal, spent the summer and fall focusing on the state’s transportation needs and educating committee members, other legislators, and stakeholder groups. Anderson was hopeful that the Legislature would look at some form of gasoline tax boost in the upcoming 2014 session that begins in late January.

But it’s looking unlikely that the governor and Legislature will support any sort of tax increase in the next session, so Anderson wants to spend the next interim period reviewing funding proposals with the hope of bringing a package to the 2015 session.

Asked if transportation funding competes with education, Anderson said the Legislature needs to fund both of them adequately. In general, they don’t compete directly, because education at the state level is funded mostly through the income tax and transportation through user fees like the gas tax, and also the sales tax. Also, some transportation taxes, like the sales tax that supports public transit, are approved directly by the people through ballot measures.

Anderson said he recognizes that the portion of the gas tax that is distributed to local governments is no longer sufficient to meet their needs. The gas tax has lost nearly 40 percent of its purchasing power since it was last raised in 1997. “We do need to let local governments solve their problems by providing some options,” he said.

The lawmaker also believes public transit is increasingly important in the state’s transportation mix, especially with rapid growth, air quality problems, and congested highways. “In the Salt Lake Valley, I understand the vision of transit-oriented development, with mixed use population centers connected by public transit. We see the demographics changing, people wanting to live in higher-density, mixed-use developments. Not everyone wants a half-acre with a lot of lawn in the suburbs.”

Anderson also believes legislators and citizens need to be more realistic and honest about what’s happening at the federal level. “The federal government is broke. Federal transportation funds aren’t going to immediately dry up, but we can’t count on large federal outlays on into the future.”

For Utah to be self-sufficient, taxes have to go up, Anderson said. “We’ve been kicking the can down the road for too long. Too much has been built on borrowed money. We need solid, secure funding.”

Despite the challenges, Anderson is optimistic about Utah’s long-term prospects. “We are sensible here. We work together and we have good leaders at all levels of government. We solve problems.” He said he believes Utah is ahead of most states in constructing and preserving transportation infrastructure, and will continue in that leadership position on into the future.

Transportation investment key to economic growth

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

The Salt Lake Chamber has a long history of supporting the Utah economy by championing transportation investment. We supported Prop. 3 that funded the expansion of mass transit and road along the Wasatch Front and eventually became 70 miles of new rail line that was completed two years ahead of schedule and more than $300 million under budget.

Today, the Chamber, through the Utah Transportation Coalition, is leading the charge to fully fund the 2040 Unified Transportation Plan. Utah is already on pace to invest some $43 billion in roads, rails and trails over the next 30 years, but maximizing our return on that investment will require investing an additional $11 billion. You can see the study here.

Recently, the U.S. Chamber produced a video to help better understand the importance of investment in our transportation infrastructure.

SLC & UTA Encourage Residents to Help Improve Air Quality With New Transit Program

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Editor’s note: This article was written by EDCUtah and was originally published on the Utah Pulse

Just in time for inversion season, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Utah Transit Authority General Manager Michael Allegra have announced a partnership offering city residents discounted passes to make riding transit more affordable.

It’s a move that would help improve air quality by minimizing the number of regular car trips.

That’s good news for Wasatch Front air quality, as vehicle emissions account for more than half of the air pollution that gets trapped along the Wasatch Front during our winter inversions. Under the pilot plan, which begins in early 2014 and is modeled after bulk pass programs offered by UTA, Salt Lake City residents will be eligible to purchase one-year transit passes for $360. That translates to $30 a month, giving residents the option to ride UTA buses, TRAX or FrontRunner rather than drive. The city is paying $150,000 to administer the program.

UTA and Salt Lake City are banking on at least 6,000 residents purchasing the passes. But how much of a difference will it make in our air quality? With 6,000 or more participants, the program has the potential to eliminate about 10,290,000 miles per year and an estimated 30 tons of pollutants from the air.

The key to the program, says UTA Senior Media Relations Specialist Remi Barron, is for 6,000 or more Salt Lake City residents to sign up. “We are optimistic the program will work out fine and continue on, but it is a one-year pilot program right now,” he notes. “UTA is interested to see how popular the program is and how the numbers work out. This is all stuff that hasn’t been done before.”

Offering incentivized use of mass transit to improve air quality is a novel idea UTA hopes other cities will be interested in as well. Studies show that by having transit passes in their pockets, residents are more likely to utilize mass transit. According to data from Salt Lake City, residents could break even on their transit investments by replacing car travel with six round trips per month on UTA transit systems. There would be no limit on the number of passes purchased per household, and residents can pay for the passes all at once or in installments of $30 per month, charged to their utility bills. (Ski bus, Park City Connect and paratransit services will be excluded from the pass.)

If the program receives the required support from city residents, it could become a sustainable piece of Salt Lake City’s efforts to improve the air quality. “We hope everyone will jump on board and take advantage of this pass,” Becker said during the announcement last month.

“UTA’s goal is to get a pass in everyone’s pocket,” added Allegra. “This is an innovative approach where a city is investing its resources to make transit passes available to all its residents. If the one-year pilot is successful, UTA hopes to refine and expand the program to other communities.”

EDCUtah President and CEO Jeff Edwards lauds the partnership as another example of Utahns working together. “Poor air quality can be a turn-off for economic development. It also diminishes our quality of life and drives up our health care costs,” he says. “We appreciate Salt Lake City leaders for being innovative in addressing our air quality challenges and making UTA’s transit systems an affordable alternative for city residents.”

Salt Lake Chamber Executive Vice President Marty Carpenter calls the residential transit program a win-win for air quality and city residents. “We’ve made wise investments in our transportation infrastructure, and that’s helped us in a number of ways,” he says. “Innovative programs like this will help more people see the benefit of our investment and help improve our air quality.”

Barron notes that UTA is also holding an open house on Dec. 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the North Salt Lake City Hall to get ideas and opinions from Davis County residents on the future of transit between south Davis County and downtown Salt Lake City.

UTA is partnering with Bountiful City, City of North Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, Davis County and the Wasatch Front Regional Council to conduct an Alternatives Analysis (AA) study to better understand current and future transit needs of people living in southern Davis County through the planning horizon of 2040.

Mountain Transportation – The Vision

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Photo credit: Jungfrau Railways

Editor’s note: This post was authored by LaVarr Webb on May 3, 2013 and originally published on UtahPolicy.com

We love our Wasatch Front mountains. Their value is incalculable. The challenge is to keep from loving them to death. Almost instant access to gorgeous alpine vistas and recreation by a couple million people makes the Wasatch Front unique in America — but also makes our mountains susceptible to overuse and degradation. How do we keep the mountains pristine and preserve them for future generations while continuing to enjoy them?

Part of the answer is clean and innovative mountain transportation. A large share of mountain impact comes from automobiles and associated parking lots, emissions and development.

A great Mountain Transportation system would greatly reduce human impact in the canyons, make Utah exclusive in the country, bolster the ski and tourism industry, provide development opportunities in the valley, and better serve both local residents and out-of-state skiers.

Most Cottonwood Canyons skiers, at one time or another, have gotten stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on snowy, narrow, slick canyon roads, driving either to or from the ski resorts. It’s white-knuckle, scary driving, and parking is often hard to find.

Imagine hopping on public transit anywhere across the Wasatch Front, socializing with friends, or working on a WiFi-connected laptop, and be skiing at your favorite resort (or hiking or fishing in the summer) within an hour, no matter the weather conditions.

Imagine you’re an avid skier from Los Angeles. Imagine that you could fly to Salt Lake City in little more than an hour, hop on a train at the airport, with your luggage and ski equipment, and ride public transit to ski lifts — without having to rent a car, negotiate snowy roads, or worry about safety.

Mountain Transportation would be a game-changer for Utah. Our ski resorts would be distinctive in the nation, on par with exclusive European resorts that are accessible by train. It would give Utah’s ski industry an enormous competitive advantage, especially against Denver, where it takes half a day to get from the airport to the ski resorts. This opportunity is significant enough that the Salt Lake Chamber’s Mobility Coalition, of which I am a member, has made Mountain Transportation a priority issue.

But this is about much more than just transportation, skiing and economic development. It’s also about saving our canyons, preventing degradation and preserving our quality of life. Good Mountain Transportation would support a diversity of recreation uses, minimize noise, preserve viewshed, improve air quality and reduce wildlife habitat impacts. These canyons are important watershed, supplying drinking water to more than half a million people.

The Wasatch Front population will increase by more than 1 million people over the next 30 years. Planners say current growth in vehicle traffic in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons is simply unsustainable. Travel restrictions will need to be imposed or fees charged to enter the canyons. Weekend daily vehicle trips are expected to increase to 16,000 in Little Cottonwood Canyon alone by 2030.

Some of the benefits of an innovative Mountain Transportation system include:

· Future development (hotels, restaurants, etc.) could be placed mostly in the valley cities, in some cases at the mouth of canyons, with easy transit access to the canyons.

· The number of people enjoying the resorts could be increased without increasing parking lots, hotels, or development in the canyons.

· Safety would be dramatically improved. People are frightened of driving the narrow roads. In heavy snow, traffic can be bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go. It’s white-knuckle driving.

· A great Mountain Transportation system would improve Utah’s position in the pursuit of future Winter Games.

· The region would be positioned as a year-round world-class recreation/resort destination.

· Patrons could better enjoy the canyons, and mountain recreation, while more easily taking advantage of downtown dining, entertainment and hotels.

· Real estate and land values at the mouths of the canyons would improve.

· Reliable, inexpensive, transportation would be available for resort workers, who wouldn’t need to live at the expensive resorts.

Clearly, Mountain Transportation will be expensive. But sharing the costs among all the interested industries, businesses and entities make it possible. Consider the many possible participants: cities, counties, airport, developers, ski industry, Forest Service, environmental groups, commuters, Utah Transit Authority, UDOT, and recreation enthusiasts.

It is possible that Mountain Transportation would be approached as a public/private partnership, with private stakeholders taking a share of risk, providing at least part of the financing, and perhaps even operating the system.

Obviously, myriad questions remain to be answered. But that’s why all the stakeholders should engage in a discussion now, and begin environmental, engineering, and financing studies to see what’s feasible and what the scope should be. We need to start now, because in 10 years the canyons will be in trouble and/or major traffic restrictions will be imposed.

We love our mountains. Let’s find ways to continue to enjoy them without loving them to death.

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.