Adequately investing in and planning for future transportation infrastructure is a critical aspect of ensuring that growth in Utah County and along the Wasatch Front is sustainable, planning officials told state lawmakers Wednesday.
Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, told lawmakers during a Transportation Interim Committee meeting that “any discussion about long-term planning in Utah, of course, starts with the omnipresent issue of population growth.”
Utah has been “the fastest growing state in the nation over the past decade,” Gruber said, noting that the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah projects the state’s population will jump from 3 million to 5 million by 2050.
“And so just think about that additional 2 million people and the additional travel demands that places on our transportation system,” he said.
Population growth over the next few decades will be largely driven by growth in Utah County, according to a 2017 Kem C. Gardner policy institute report.
“Utah County is projected to have the largest numeric increase in population, adding over one million new residents to reach 1.6 million by 2065,” the report said. “The Utah County population nearly approaches the population of Salt Lake County by 2065.”
Andrew Jackson, executive director of the Mountainland Association of Governments, which oversees transportation planning in Utah County, said a key aspect of successful planning was “transportation corridor preservation,” which he described as “a strategy that we use to preserve future roadways at a reduced cost.”
State and local governments can purchase property as a way “to ensure that the network of rails, highways, roads, and streets will be available to serve existing and future development needs with minimal capital, environmental, and social costs,” according to a MAG presentation.
A map outlining corridor preservation needs in Utah County between now and 2050 shows a number of projects listed as “very urgent,” including preserving areas around the northeast and northwest edges of Utah Lake as well as near Springville and Mapleton.
There are also less urgent projects in other areas, including west Utah County, Elk Ridge and Goshen.
One of the challenges in predicting transportation needs, Jackson told the committee, is that “we’re looking way out into the future on these purchases and trying to purchase the property before it’s developed.”
“We’ve got a pretty good idea of where the road will go, but we’re not for sure (certain),” the MAG director said. “Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we buy the wrong property.”
“We don’t want to burden everybody today with purchasing property that maybe their grandkids might be driving on, or great grandkids,” he added.
Jackson said the corridor preservations could be funded, in part, by doubling the state vehicle registration fee and increasing the rental car fee.
On Monday, officials unveiled planning efforts for a new mixed-use development called The Point, which will be built on 700 acres of state-owned land near the Utah-Salt Lake County border where the Utah State Prison currently sits.
Point of the Mountain State Land Authority Executive Director Alan Matheson said Wednesday that the development project “might be a good example of how … transportation planning can affect and help implement some of the great opportunities that we have in our state.”
“This really is one of the best, if not the absolute best, development opportunit(ies) in the country over the next few years,” said Matheson. “For it to achieve its great potential, however, it really needs to have a strong transportation core and a great transportation system serving it.”
Matheson said there are a number of “challenges” with planning development near the Point of the Mountain, including its location, which is “right between two very fast-growing counties, especially Utah County.”
“If we don’t think ahead, we could create the biggest bottleneck in the West that would have implications statewide and even Westwide for moving freight and people,” he said. “If we do this right, and frankly I think we are and I know we will, we’re going to create the best opportunity in the West for a place to live, to work, to start a business. So transportation is key to that success.”
Developing the more than 20,000 acres near the Point of the Mountain in Lehi and Saratoga Springs, as well as in Draper, Bluffdale, Herriman, Riverton, South Jordan and Sandy, would generate approximately $9 billion in state revenue by 2050, according to Matheson.
Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at [email protected] and 801-344-2599.