There is a looming problem with Utah’s transportation system, namely that cities, counties, the state, and the nation simply don’t have the money necessary to fund new projects while maintaining the system we currently have.
It is with that backdrop Wednesday afternoon that lawmakers in the Transportation Interim Committee listened to ideas addressing the $26 billion shortfall expected to befall the state over the next 30 years—even with smart planning, the state is expected to be short $11 billion in current dollars by 2044.
Andrew Gruber with the Wasatch Front Regional Council presented the news to legislators Wednesday that the state will need $28 billion to meet the needs of new road construction, and an additional $21 billion to maintain the system over the next 30 years. Likewise, public transit and self-propelled infrastructure such as bike lanes, walking trails, and sidewalks will cost the state an estimated $8 billion to $9 billion in new construction, and $12 billion to $13 billion to maintain over the same time frame.
Though high profile urban projects such as the recent completion of the I-15 Core Project in Utah County and the Legacy Parkway in Davis County are often what get the attention of general public, officials pointed out that agencies must consider the whole state when planning for Utah’s transportation future. “Utah’s economy relies a lot on the areas outside of the Wasatch Front,” Cory Pope of UDOT told the committee, with Gruber noting that it was “…because of investments in transportation that the economy was able to survive the Great Recession.
With these challenges firmly established, and with the benefits of continued investments laid bare, Shane Marshal of UDOT told lawmakers of the department’s plan to get the most bang out of the taxpayers buck.
“We consider long-term plans, models, and public opinion when determining what projects get prioritized,” Marshal told the committee. “Our goals are to preserve infrastructure, achieve zero fatalities, optimize mobility, and strengthen the economy.”
The most tangible aspect of transportation planning is the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRP). The LRP is a collaboration of cities, counties, regional councils, UDOT, and UTA, all working together to create a vision of the future that plans for both urban and rural transportation needs, and creates a cohesive document that will, it is hoped, prevent waste when belts already have to be tightened. Gruber praised the LRP, noting that officials from across the nation find it unique and revolutionary that so many agencies are able to work together to address such pressing needs.
It is now up to lawmakers to decide what options they wish to explore in order to make up for the looming budget shortfall.