Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
John Inglish believes that public transit will be as crucial for getting around along the Wasatch Front as subways are to New York City.

Like his grandfather, who was once a sheriff in Apache County, Ariz., John Inglish has a knack for rounding up trouble.

Inglish, who grew up in Phoenix, has spent almost 30 years at the Utah Transit Authority and the past nine at the helm. Along the way, he has earned plenty of foes. During his first years as general manager, Inglish was a target for anti-TRAX advocates. Today, his critics are fiscal conservatives and low-income advocates who say UTA is "mismanaged" and does little to assist needy riders.

But Inglish, 60, truly believes in what he is selling. In an interview with the Deseret Morning News, he shared his vision of the future of transit in Salt Lake County and along the Wasatch Front.

Deseret Morning News: What are your goals for transit in Salt Lake County?

Inglish: The long-term goals are to make Salt Lake County one of the finest places in North America to live.

Deseret Morning News: What do you mean by that?

Inglish: I mean by that, a place where people can enjoy the environment without having to deal with air-quality problems taking away the beauty of the mountains, the air we breathe. Where they're not stuck in delays in traffic. . . . You get out to the edge of Salt Lake County and look out across the valley. This is a big, big place. We're not going back to the old days. We're not going back to horse and buggy days. This is going to become a major metropolitan city in this country, because it has a lot of talent. This place has a lot of talent, great education. It has all of those things that will make this a great city and a great attraction for businesses.

One of the big objectives is economic development. We've got to keep that going. We're increasing our population every year, and most of that is not in-migration from somewhere else. It's us. We like families here, we have significant-sized families, we have a close family culture and thus we want our family to be here. We want there to be the economic opportunity for members of our family. . . . I think that's what motivates the need for good public transit. It addresses the environmental issues, it addresses the economic issues, it addresses the development. . . .

Deseret Morning News: Thirty years from now, what do you want the valley to look like in terms of transit?

Inglish: It will be dense, significantly denser from a population point of view. The areas that are open now will be largely filled in. In terms of transit, you won't need a car. You'll be able to get throughout the region on good public transit: bus, train, light rail, heavy rail, gondola — whatever. Those systems will be there because we'll need them to go around. Twenty-five to 30 years from now, you won't need a car to get around.

Deseret Morning News: Why are you so confident in saying that?

Inglish: The systems are already beginning to be put into place. If we put together the first phase of the light-rail 2030 plan, the entire county — 70 percent — will be within two to three miles of a rail station, which means the bus system will fill in and create the connections. I believe once that basis, that foundation is begun, we're going to start extending those lines, and within 30 years there will be lines far beyond what we've got on paper today, even.

Deseret Morning News: Critics say transit is not worth the cost.

Inglish: Not worth it? How could it not be worth it? That's like going to New York and saying the subway wasn't worth it. It wouldn't be a New York without a subway. Maybe that's good, I don't know. But of course it's good. Is the freeway worth it? Is getting to work efficiently and reliably and effectively and cheaply worth it? . . . It's now becoming apparent that what everybody has been saying about the greenhouse gases, about all of this, is probably true and it may be accelerated. So we've got to find a different way to move ourselves around without so much reliance on oil. We've got to find other ways to move people. We have to. It isn't, "Wouldn't that be nice." It's beginning to be a have to. And public transit, that's exactly what it does. It gives us a means of moving around large volumes of people, efficiently, effectively, reliably and cheaply. Oh my gosh, I don't know how someone could say it's not worth it. The actual trip by a person on public transit is one-third the cost of driving a car. It's cheap. . . .

Deseret Morning News: Paint a picture. If TRAX is built-out, if commuter rail is built, what is it going to look like in the valley?

Inglish: I used to think it looked like an umbrella, at least the Salt Lake County portion. You had a central corridor and a spray of bus routes that were serving those areas near the central business district. Ultimately, the better look, it's a bit of a skeleton with a central spine and arms that branch out east and west across the region. We're basically pretty well laid out to be a north-south, east-west system. . . . It ends up being a network that emanates from the central spine, and there will probably be a north to south corridor, particularly, on the west side and probably some down the east side. That will be much more difficult to do. It ends up becoming almost a grid.


E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com