Utah creates unique unified transportation plan that identifies $54 bln in needs

Utah has created a unique and unified transportation plan that identified $54 billion in road, bridge, and infrastructure investments needed over 30 years, said Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC).

“All transportation organizations in the state, along with the state’s department of transportation and transit agencies have come together to identify needs for investment and the timing of those investments and integrated it into a holistic plan that ignores boundaries,” Gruber said.

To the best of his knowledge, Gruber said Utah is the only state in the nation with this type of unified plan.

The WFRC is responsible for coordinating the transportation planning process in the Salt Lake and Ogden/Layton urbanized areas as the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). These MPOs are agencies responsible for transportation planning in urbanized areas throughout the United States.

Transportation, Gruber said, cuts across city, county and planning boundaries. The group has looked at the state’s entire transportation needs, including those who may commute by bike or walking.

“We’ve also looked at our transportation capacity. We need to give our growing population room and just as importantly, we have to keep our existing infrastructure in good repair.”

Gruber said Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. He attributes the growth to residents having large families and an influx of new residents who wish to take advantage of Utah’s healthy economy.

But all of that planning comes at a price.

Utah’s transportation plan identifies $54 billion of priority investments needed over the next 30 years, Gruber said. “That’s not every investment but the highest priority in state and local roads and rapid transportation,” he said.

The two greatest challenges the state faces are providing enough transit capacity to meet the needs of the state’s growing population and maintaining the existing infrastructure.

“Good roads cost less. We have made a huge investment in the past few decades. Our transit system is better than most in the country, but we can’t let it fall into disrepair,” he said.

The $54 billion of investments would cover increasing road capacity, transportation infrastructure and maintenance of the existing transportation system.

“Of that $54 billion, we anticipate having $43 billion in revenues, so that leaves us with an $11 billion shortfall,” Gruber said. Those numbers take into account funding from the federal government remaining at current levels.

Part of that shortfall has already been addressed. The state recently passed legislation that changes the state’s gas tax from a flat rate fee to a percentage at 12 percent.

The legislation also authorizes local communities to impose a transportation-specific sales tax for transit and roads. “And since we don’t know if any communities will take advantage of the new tax, we cannot at this time place a dollar figure on how much revenue that might generate,” he said.