Utah’s commitment to disciplined planning and investment was featured as a “can-do” region this month by Transportation For America, an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from communities across the country, united to ensure that states and the federal government step up to invest in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions — because these are the investments that hold the key to our future economic prosperity.
While Utah’s success stories in economic development, transportation funding and quality of life are making their rounds around the nation – we still have significant work to be done, especially in transportation. The article highlight’s Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan as a national best practice and a comprehensive approach that provides for positive outcomes beyond transportation. A quality transportation system offers personal benefits to every Utahn, including more time with families, a cleaner environment and better health and Utah’s transportation system is the backbone of our economy. However, Utah’s current funding mechanisms won’t produce enough to cover all of Utah’s needed transportation projects.
The article “Local Successes” in Transportation for America highlights this point. One ongoing challenge for the Utah, specifically the Wasatch Front in particular is geography. How will a growing population maintain a good quality of life in a relatively thin sliver of land?
Utah is the sixth most urban state in the country, with 80 percent of the population residing along the Wasatch Front, a metropolitan region in the north-central part of the state that includes Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden. Bordered to the east by the Wasatch Mountain Range and to the west by the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake, the region provides limited space for its two million residents.
To compound the issues associated with limited space, the Wasatch Front’s population is expected to increase 60 percent by the year 2040, swelling to 3.5 million people.
Residents, planners, business leaders and their elected officials are asking the question: How to accommodate that growth while maintaining the region’s reputation as an economic powerhouse with world-class outdoor recreational opportunities?
Answers to that question began in 1987 with the founding of the Coalition for Utah’s Future. From that coalition grew Envision Utah, a nonprofit organization focused on growth issues around the state. In 1997, Envision Utah launched a two-year research effort focused on the growth along the Wasatch Front. That process engaged approximately 20,000 participants and resulted in the Quality Growth Strategy, a vision for the Wasatch Front that aimed to accommodate growth while conserving more land and water, limiting emissions associated with the region’s air quality challenges and providing more transportation and land use choices to meet market demand.
Along with almost unprecedented citizen participation in the region’s long-range planning efforts through Envision Utah, the region’s business community has also played a leadership role in advocating for additional transportation investment in local and state transportation needs.
“The number one issue ten years ago became the infrastructure,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We realized right up front from a business community [perspective], that if we let the infrastructure slip in our communities, we would absolutely commit economic suicide,” Beattie added. “It takes so much longer to build yourself out of a problem once you’re in, so we had to address it. The business community stepped up and said we want commuter rail, we want light rail, we want roads.”
David Golden, a banking executive with Wells Fargo and co-chair for Salt Lake Chamber’s transportation initiative the Utah Transportation Coalition, agrees.
“One thing I think we’ve proven is that an investment in transportation pays dividends for our economy and I think the citizens and leadership of our state generally understand that,” he said.
“From a business community perspective, we understand how important this investment is and how beneficial it is. We are a growing state with numerous demands, but I think overall, transportation is a proven winner in this state and one that people are on board with getting behind.”
Golden points to an economic analysis that found a $1.94 gain in gross domestic product for every $1 invested in the Unified Transportation Plan. “That’s a winner,” he said.
Through a lot of consensus-building and the cooperation of the public and private sectors on the Wasatch Front, the region’s leaders have laid the groundwork for economic prosperity for years to come. They’ve cultivated a heritage of leadership in the local business community. They’ve engaged thousands of citizens to think about what kind of place they want the Salt Lake City region to be decades down the road — and they’ve supported the vision with their tax dollars.
“We’ve still got more work to be done in investing for our future growth,” said Beattie. “The secret sauce that got us to this point will need a bit of seasoning to ensure we continue to invest prudently in our infrastructure and prosper as a region for years to come.”
See the full article here: bit.ly/1qasUam