SALT LAKE CITY — With population expected to grow by more than a million people along the Wasatch Front in the next 30 years, the Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Transit Authority will likely have to build more roads and provide additional routes.
On Thursday, the Wasatch Front Regional Council, the governing board for those involved in the region's vision for growth and development, took a major step in that direction by approving a list of projects to help propel northern Utah's highways and byways into the future.
New projects, some long-term, include:
Turning Bangerter Highway into a full-fledged freeway, complete with interchanges instead of intersections
Increased presence of bus rapid transit throughout Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties with a goal of turning some routes into street-car lines
New bus lines that could later be TRAX lines
A northern extension of the Legacy Highway
Enhancement of Fairfield Road in Layton that would relieve traffic pressure on Highway 89 and I-15 in that area.
Andrew Gruber, executive director of the WFRC, said the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan is different from previous versions because it has an increased emphasis on maintenance, enhancing road capacity and efficiencies, and also provides more transit options for commuters. He said the new roads are necessary to accommodate population growth and maintain quality of life.
"How we develop as a region is going to define our quality of life going forward," Gruber said. "If we just carry on with business as usual, the roads will become more congested, air quality will worsen and the economy will suffer."
Every four years, the group updates the Regional Transportation Plan, adapting to growth and traffic patterns where necessary. For the past three years, the council has been gathering information from city and county leaders, environmental and community organizations, chambers of commerce, UDOT and UTA, and citizens to determine transportation needs within the region.
"Unfortunately, we've got more projects than we've got money," said WFRC spokesman Sam Klemm. The current list of more than 200 projects will now be prioritized, allowing for 10-year increments to complete various projects, before the council gives it another stamp of approval in January. From there, it will enter a formal public comment period, and final adoption will occur in May. More information can be found online at www.wfrc.org.
"This is the governing document for the next four years for all regionally significant transportation projects," Klemm said, adding that significant projects include those that provide major new capacity roads or cross jurisdictional boundaries. "This is the template. UDOT and UTA can't build anything that isn't on here."
He said that as the region is beginning to be "built out," bordered on one side by the mountains and the other by the Great Salt Lake, "we need to maximize the value of what we already have, in terms of streets."
Priorities for roads throughout the region will be set based on a variety of factors, including need, which is determined by traffic and population projections, cost and inflation rates, minutes of congestion that can be saved, as well as the number of accidents and amount of pollution that can be reduced. The transportation plan, Klemm said, helps to shape the community.