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The winners and the losers

Published: Saturday, March 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah Department of Transportation photos show different problems with the road work being done on state Route 92 in Utah County, including cracking in the concrete.

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Loser: Drivers going from Highland to I-15 were supposed to be zipping along a new Timpanogos Highway by now, but construction problems are piling up faster than fender-benders on an icy morning. The new completion date is May 22, a full year after the highway originally was supposed to be done, and the contractor, Flatiron Constructors Inc., is piling up daily penalties that now total more than $3 million. Utah Department of Transportation officials this week showed reporters pictures of rebar that was placed only an inch deep and could be removed by hand, among other things. Flatiron was the company that received the now infamous $13 million payment for not winning a contract, a payment that led to political embarrassment and a change in state law.

Winner: Do cigarette taxes reduce smoking? State health officials think so. The Legislature has increased tobacco taxes and the smoking rate among young people has dropped from 12 percent in 1999 to 5.9 percent today. The Utah smoking rate is less than one-third of the national rate of 19.5 percent. Lots has happened over the last 13 years, including cultural changes that have made smoking far less attractive than it once was among young people. But higher taxes make smoking more expensive, and that can easily make a cash-strapped teenager think twice about adopting the habit.

Loser: The Bureau of Land Management confirmed this week that abuse and misuse of federal funds has been found in pockets throughout the organization, including in Utah. The abuse appears to be tied to fire fighting and ranges from embezzlement to the misuse of government credit cards. Fraud is always a serious matter. When it involves the theft of tax funds during a time of severe economic challenges, however, its impact is heightened.

Loser: Utahns who were here 10 years ago can appreciate what Londoners are going through as they prepare for this summer's Olympic Games. The gloom-and-doom naysayers are out in full force. Traffic will snarl, costs will spiral out of control, the weather won't cooperate, deadly diseases will run rampant — you name it, and people in and around London are predicting it. We know what that's all about. The 2002 Winter Games had to confront raw nerves from the recent 9/11 terrorist attacks as well as overblown concerns about the stuffy local culture and possible winter inversions. The good part about worrying is that reality seldom turns out to be as bad as people predict. With any luck, Londoners will smile at the end and wonder what all the fuss was about.

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