My view: Smart transit key to Utah's economic success today and in future

By Lane Beattie

Published: Sunday, Aug. 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Passengers arrive and depart by TRAX train at Salt Lake City International Airport, Monday, May 13, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Over the past decade, we have proved an important principle: investment in our transportation system pays off. We know an efficient and effective transportation system must include both roads and rails to keep people and goods moving through our state and to keep our economy strong.

News reports have been filled with quotes from elected officials articulating the need for investment in the national infrastructure. They talk of crumbling bridges and dilapidated roads. Here in Utah, we've done more than talk, and it has paid off.

By expanding I-15, building the Legacy Highway and MountainView Corridor and adding some 70 miles of rail for FrontRunner and TRAX, along with a new streetcar in Sugar House, we have reduced congestion, improved our air quality and strengthened our economy.

Thanks to our unique ability to work together to get big things done and our commitment to wise planning, we have been busy building at lower costs while other cities and states were struggling to balance their budgets.

Today, Utah and Salt Lake City are among the strongest economies in the U.S. with an unemployment rate far lower and a job growth rate stronger than the rest of the nation.

Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has played an important role in our transportation success and has a proven track record of delivering on significant projects ahead of schedule and under budget. That is impressive to business leaders, a source of pride for elected officials and should be worthy of praise from taxpayers who know their money is being used wisely.

Despite a record of success, UTA has come under fire the past few weeks as reports of executive compensation and international trips have grabbed the headlines. Without proper context, these stories may cause some concern, but context matters.

Businesses invest money to make money. Likewise, UTA invests money to avoid wasting money. UTA puts this principle into practice by paying a nationally competitive rate for leadership talent. That talent provides the necessary planning to deliver efficient and effective products, saving far more money than they cost.

A trip to Switzerland would be an excessive junket were it not for the fact the Swiss operate the world's finest mountain transit system. As we explore options to better connect our world-class ski resorts to our metropolitan area and our international airport, it only makes sense to learn from the best. Failing to plan appropriately before investing hundreds of millions of dollars would be grounds for criticism; doing your homework to ensure prudent use of transportation dollars is not. If done properly, a mountain transit system will have a tremendous, positive ripple effect through our economy.

We must not be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Bringing in top-notch leadership and researching the efforts of world leaders in mountain transportation is the right approach.

Proper planning is essential to our economic development, and Utah is ahead of the game. As the population of our state doubles over the next three decades, we have adopted a substantive plan for construction and maintenance of our transportation system. Utah's 2040 unified transportation plan is the roadmap to reduced congestion, cleaner air, greater energy efficiency, continued economic development and improved life quality. Smart investment in roads and rails is key to our future economy.

Geography blessed us with the opportunity to be the Crossroads of the West. Capitalizing on that opportunity by building top-notch transportation systems requires careful planning, visionary leadership and skilled craftsmanship.

Utah has the plan and transportation leadership to do the job right.

Lane Beattie is president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.

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