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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Passengers walk to the train for a ride on FrontRunner commuter rail in Woods Cross. The commuter-rail line, launched in 2008, runs from Salt Lake City to Pleasant View.

The First Decade — Last in a series: A new millennium was born amid concerns about the Y2K bug. Far more real fears unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001. Deseret News and Associated Press writers today continue a series of essays examining the major developments of the past decade and their impact on Utah and beyond.

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Trapped in gridlock, the pace is stop-and-slow.

The exit to the right is closed. So are the next 10 exits after that. Up ahead, the left lane is merging into traffic. Concrete barriers all around, and here comes the snow. Slick conditions. Remember the luge?

Many a car sat idle in Utah traffic over the past decade, awaiting the opening of a reconstructed I-15 or I-80, a safer U.S. 6 and the creation of Legacy Parkway.

While the vehicles on the road may have been stopped, the engineers, planners and politicians never were. Their trajectories always moved forward. Because if there's one axiom political types learn fast, it's that they won't be re-elected if the potholes don't get filled.

Take the 2009 legislative session: Utah's public colleges and universities took a 9 percent funding cut; K-12 education took a 6 percent cut; the state court system faced $6.5 million in cuts; and health and human services swallowed $62 million. Accompanying the cuts were layoffs, furloughs, early retirements and program cutbacks.

But transportation? No layoffs, furloughs or early retirements at the Utah Department of Transportation. At UDOT, they're busy: Lawmakers voted to bond for $3 billion in projects, including a reconstruction of I-15 in Utah County that's scheduled to begin this spring.

People need roads to get to work, to school and to visit loved ones. Roads also are necessary to maintain a good standard of living. About 70 percent of the goods Americans use are delivered by semitrailer trucks. Good highways are necessary to continue the consumerism that keeps the wheels of the U.S. — and Utah — economies spinning.

But that may be changing.

In the past decade, trains began to roll in the heavily populated Wasatch Front, starting with TRAX and FrontRunner commuter rail. UTA now provides more than 1.2 million train rides a month.

UTA is building 70 additional miles of light and commuter rail. And the agency has begun discussing high-speed rail in an alliance with nearby Western cities, believing it is the future.

Along the Wasatch Front, planners have said they want a comprehensive transportation system that includes both road and rail. In fact, FrontRunner was built as part of UDOT's compromise with environmentalists on Legacy Parkway, which has helped alleviate congestion on I-15 in Davis County.

The Legacy Parkway is an example of an increase of, as they say in transportation-speak, "capacity." Utah got hundreds of miles of increased road capacity in the past decade.

But while the capacity increases — not to mention improvements to safety that came with new road design — have made it easier to drive, driving has at the same time become more difficult.

The state's population increased 25 percent in the last decade.

The new people congested existing roads. New roads were needed. New roads encourage nearby development, which is positive from an economic standpoint. But eventually all the people in the new developments will exceed existing road capacity and require new roads. And so roads beget more roads. It's a cycle.

Gas prices played pingpong with Utah drivers over the past decade.

Remember the days of $1.50-per-gallon gas? Yeah, they existed. Ten years ago, in May 2000.

The first spike came after Hurricane Katrina damaged Gulf of Mexico drilling platforms. Local gas prices shot up to $2.16.

Utah's all-time gas price high spiked at $4.22 on July 18, 2008. The oil and refining industry blamed world oil markets — specifically increased demand in developing countries such as China and India.

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, forever changed the way Utahns fly. Massive security measures began at the Salt Lake City International Airport, which has increased international traffic with direct flights to Tokyo and Paris. Passengers going through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints are expected to remove their shoes and coats, walk through metal detectors, and even an electromagnetic scanner that lets TSA officers see your body down to your knickers.

The 2000s were bookended with massive infusions of federal money. At the beginning of the decade, Utah received $376 million for the Salt Lake County I-15 reconstruction. The feds also committed to UTA $200.4 million for light rail and the Salt Lake Intermodal Hub transit station.

At the end of the decade, state transportation coffers were again flush with cash from the federal government — $213 million from the $878 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was hoped to "stimulate" the economy during what has been considered the largest downturn since the Great Depression.

And the future? At this point, it looks like the state will have to go it alone. The $1.7 billion I-15 reconstruction in Utah County will mostly be paid for with bonds. Ditto for the $670 million Mountain View Corridor.

e-mail: lhancock@desnews.com