November 26, 2022

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Utah public transportation: Reduce traffic and air pollution | Opinion

Numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau showing Utah as the fastest-growing state in the country over the last decade confirm what we already knew — we are growing up, literally.

Utah is doubling in population and leading the country on a number of key economic metrics. As mayor of a city at the epicenter of it all, I recognize the importance of thinking differently about how we grow. That is why I wholeheartedly supported the Legislature’s move that authorized the Utah Department of Transportation to manage and oversee transit capital development projects that include state funding. 

Sponsored by Rep. Kay Christofferson and Sen. Kirk Cullimore, HB322 Public Transit Capital Development Modifications is a game changer for transit in Utah. Signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox, HB322 authorizes UDOT to manage and oversee transit capital projects that the Utah Transit Authority would then operate and maintain. The bill specifically identifies projects such as FrontRunner upgrades and transit service at the Point of the Mountain. 

This historic move represents a paradigm shift for transportation in Utah. With a state agency delivering transit capital projects, the Legislature will likely feel more comfortable allocating additional state funding to transit. Over time, this could potentially make hundreds of millions of dollars available for regionally significant transit projects. 

To reduce the number of people driving alone in cars on our roads, we must have a well-functioning transportation system that seamlessly integrates different ways of getting around. Transit is an essential part of our transportation system for reducing traffic congestion, increasing access to educational and employment opportunities, improving our air quality and enhancing our overall quality of life. 

I have served on the UTA board in various capacities over the years and have seen the importance of transit firsthand. During my service on the board, UTA completed the $2.8 billion FrontLines 2015 Program more than two years ahead of schedule and $300 million under budget. FrontLines 2015 doubled UTA’s rail system by adding four new TRAX lines and a 45-mile FrontRunner extension from Salt Lake to Provo. UTA was recognized nationally for its successful delivery of the largest transit capital program in state history. However, with significantly more transit needs across the region and the state, UDOT is well positioned as the agency to deliver future transit capital projects going forward. 

Having a state department of transportation manage the delivery of a rail or bus line is not regularly done in other parts of the country. However, UDOT delivers multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects ahead of schedule and under budget all the time. Indeed, there is precedent for this with the Utah Valley Express, a bus rapid transit project that operates with record-breaking ridership in Orem and Provo. In close collaboration with UTA, UDOT managed this regionally significant transit project that runs almost entirely on state-owned roads.

HB322 institutionalizes collaboration between Utah’s largest transportation agencies and will ultimately save taxpayer resources through improved coordination and efficient streamlining of our critical transportation resources. While the agencies have worked together for years as evidenced by Utah’s Transportation Vision and the Utah Unified Transportation Plan, we now have a law that will help us more efficiently implement them. This directly benefits Utahns across the state, including Draper residents. 

In 2019, Draper was ranked by Money Magazine as the “sixth best city in the country” to live. Our enviable quality of life did not happen overnight or by happenstance. For example, our community has one of the most extensive city-owned trail networks in the country, with over 117 miles of scenic trails and 5,000 acres of open space in Corner Canyon alone. This extensive trail network, coupled with planned transportation investments, means that Draper residents and visitors will be able to travel from Corner Canyon to The Point without ever needing to get in a car. 

What’s The Point? The Point is arguably the most significant economic and quality-of-life opportunity in state history. Located wholly within Draper boundaries, America’s newest 15-minute city can only become a reality with transit. For years, I have served on the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority and have helped to oversee the creation of the framework plan for the site. The plan anticipates transit-oriented development on a scale never before seen in Utah. All daily needs for the tens of thousands of future workers and residents at The Point will be within a 15-minute walk of a transit station. 

Situated at the heart of Utah’s two most populous counties and largest labor sheds, the Point of the Mountain already has significant transportation challenges, and it is only going to get worse unless we work together to implement the right solutions. Major transit investments in this area and across the state will be needed to ensure we stay ahead of our growth. UDOT is the right agency to deliver those investments.  

Troy Walker is the mayor of Draper and serves as the Salt Lake County mayor’s appointee to the Utah Transit Authority Local Advisory Council.