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.

Winter maintenance keeps Utah’s economy moving

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Utah’s winter storms play a critical role in our community and to our economy. Our quality of life would significantly diminish without the Greatest Snow On Earth®. There would be no tourists to pack our resorts, hotels and restaurants or water to fill our reservoirs to enable economic growth.

However, not everything associated with our winter storms are beneficial to the state’s economy. When a big storm hits, the traveling public is at greater risk of crashing, traffic snarls, workers and consumers are delayed, and the economy suffers. Additionally, traffic that is brought to a standstill has a negative impact on our air quality and a hindrance to first-responders. Even some storms for our state’s ski resorts present significant challenges forcing canyon closures and limiting access–negatively impacting tourism.  The economic impact of winter storms is substantial. Lost revenue is in the neighborhood of $35 billion annually from restricted mobility on major interstates nationally as a result of weather.

Locally, Utah’s ability to keep roads clear and traffic moving safely is vital to our economy. By some estimates, the one-day direct impact of major disruptions from a snowstorm cost Utah’s economy nearly $66 million. These losses are the result of reduced consumer spending; lost sales taxes; production and transporting of goods stopped; hourly wages lost; expenses related to fatalities, injury and vehicle damage; plus liability claims against local government agencies responsible for maintaining safe roads.  This far exceeds the state’s $22 million dollar winter maintenance budget for the entire year.

The ability to keep roads clear does require an investment mentality. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) also has been challenged with increased lane miles while being constrained with limited budgets to maintain to keep Utah’s roads safe and commerce flowing. To ensure Utahns and products can reach their destination in a safe and timely fashion, UDOT spends roughly $5 million on just road salt–that’s on top of wages and maintenance of vehicles–among other costs. Making things even more difficult, the unpredictability of the number and severity of winter storms in any given year can also quickly drive up costs.

In order to maximize taxpayer resources, UDOT and its private partners have been innovating new technologies and methods. Reducing waste and more efficiently deploying resources in remote locations, UDOT partnered with LiveView technologies to provide low-cost live streaming web cameras that are estimated to save nearly $200,000 in their first year. Additionally, UDOT utilizes “Ice Slicer” a high performance granular salt from Central Utah which is more cost-effective and efficient in keeping Utah’s roads safe for travel and open for business.

While the economic need is obvious, the funding to support winter maintenance and transportation investments generally in Utah remains in question. The Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Transportation Coalition is working with the legislature and key stakeholders to push forward Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan and the required investments to keep Utah’s public safe and economy moving.

 

Source(s): Utah Department of Transportation. “The Economic Costs of Disruption from a Snowstorm.” IHS Global Insight – study prepared for the American Highway Users Alliance
Source(s): Utah Department of Transportation; “The Economic Costs of Disruption from a Snowstorm.” IHS Global Insight – study prepared for the American Highway Users Alliance

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.

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.

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.