As years went by and the population grew, getting around the Wasatch Front was becoming harder and taking longer. Everyone was staring gridlock in the face and blinking.
Leaders of the Chamber had their own epiphany. Scott Anderson, a past chairman of the Chamber who had urged the association to become more involved in crucial policy issues, said transportation was the Chamber’s first effort in that direction.
The Chamber, historically long concerned about transportation problems, outlined its priorities in a mobility summit at Little America Hotel in December 2004. Speaking bluntly, Beattie told business leaders that while transportation was the backbone of the state’s economy, “current funding levels simply won’t meet our transportation needs.” In fact, he said later, “we were woefully under funded.” “We can pay more now, or a lot more later,” said to Corporation and Salt Lake Chamber chair said.
The first significant test of the new Beattie public policy era came in 2006. The Chamber jumped into the fray to advance a transportation initiative that would put its credibility on the line, engage it with a skeptical governor and an even more skeptical Legislature, and involve a voter campaign costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Beattie was president of the Utah State Senate in 1997, when lawmakers passed a five-cent gasoline tax to fund I-15 expansion and other projects, so he knew the difficulties of passing tax increases. However, it was evident new funding sources had to be found. The only transportation plans on the table projected improvements by 2030, and the upgrades were underfunded by $23.6 billion. That simply wasn’t acceptable for the business community, which felt the timeline had to be shorter and believed, without the projects, economic growth would be stymied.
“We realized from a business community perspective, that if we let the infrastructure slip in our communities, we would commit economic suicide,” Beattie said. “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.'”
This led to a monumental effort spearheaded by the Chamber — Proposition 3, an initiative to support funding for commuter rail stretching from Pleasant View to Provo, new light rail TRAX lines, and widened and improved roads. The only thing they had to do: convince voters.
To do so, they created a now national model for transportation advocacy, involving many top political and business powerhouses in the community. The 2015 Transportation Alliance pioneered a communications plan and government relations strategy to bring both the elected officials and the public onboard.
The unprecedented effort led all five members of Utah’s congressional delegation, for the first time in state history, to support a local ballot measure. They joined Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., majorities on the Utah County Commission and Salt Lake County Council, and hundreds of business leaders and elected officials to endorse the initiative.
Ultimately, voters in both Utah and Salt Lake counties gave their overwhelming approval. Moreover, the victory opened opportunities for other counties, like Davis and Weber, to seek initiatives for transit improvements.
With this success, the Chamber set the stage for issues to come. Frank Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb, in their popular Sunday political column, paid tribute: “best political courage and perseverance: The Chamber and Lane Beattie, president and CEO, worked incredibly hard to help broker a special legislative session (when no one thought it could be done) authorizing the sales tax ballot proposal for transportation. As the chief campaign sponsor of Proposition 3, the Chamber took a huge risk, but successfully pushed it through.”