Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The key to economic growth in Utah will be continued monetary support of the area’s transportation system, according to a new report.
According to a comprehensive study conducted by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston, further state and local government investment in broad-based transportation could result in more than 180,000 new jobs over the next three decades.
The report, commissioned by the Salt Lake Chamber’s Transportation Coalition, showed that if municipal governments and transportation agencies fully implement Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan, the result would be almost 183,000 cumulative new jobs created by 2040, $130.5 million in additional household income, $183.6 billion in additional gross domestic product and $22.2 billion in additional tax revenues from economic growth.
The study quantifies the total economic value to the state if the plan is funded and implemented. The study measured the total impact of increased transportation efficiency, improved goods movement and market access, increased business creation and attraction, and construction spending impacts.
Lane Beattie, president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Chamber, said the cumulative economic impact is very impressive.
“If we don’t respond, we end up in gridlock,” Beattie said. “When you end up in gridlock, you have existing companies struggling and other companies unable to hire people.”
Transit-oriented development, he said, will allow the state to grow more efficiently and effectively over the long term and reduce the volume of vehicles on the roads, which will have numerous significant benefits.
“Instead of having two cars or three, families will be able to have just one car if they have to even have a car at all,” Beattie said. “They could get by using transit.”
Air quality would also improve with the resulting reduction in exhaust emissions, he added.
Utah’s long-range transportation plan addresses the 30-year needs of state and local roads, public transit, as well as active transportation such as bicycle trails and walking trails. The study considered the need to expand transportation capacity and choices as Utah’s population grows, in addition to maintenance, preservation and operation of the system.
The Unified Transportation Plan identified $54.7 billion in critically needed investment through 2040 to ensure good mobility as the population is estimated to grow more than 60 percent. Current revenue sources will generate about $43.4 billion, necessitating an additional investment of $11.3 billion to implement the plan and protect Utah’s strong economy, said Salt Lake Chamber chief economist Natalie Gochnour.
“Transportation infrastructure investment is one of the basic functions of government, and this study confirms that prudent investment pays off significantly over the long term,” Gochnour said. “Implementing the unified plan will prevent deficient transportation conditions, saving Utah’s households and businesses nearly $85 billion in reduced congestion and vehicle operating costs, and improved reliability, safety and air quality.”
“We firmly believe economic prosperity requires efficient transportation systems," Beattie added. "This study proves that point. The efficient movement of goods and people saves money and strengthens our businesses.”
Speaking at a news conference Monday in Sugar House near the soon-to-be-completed streetcar line, Beattie said construction of the streetcar line accelerated or is partially responsible for creation of more than 1,000 residential units and nearly 2 million square feet of redevelopment on several sites, resulting in $400 million in private investment in the local business district, according to the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency.
When asked if civic leaders would be able to fund the project necessary to enhance the area’s transportation system, Beattie was pragmatic.
“We can’t afford not to,” he said. “If you want to really stifle an economy, you just let gridlock happen in your communities.”
Beattie noted that the success of light rail and commuter rail in northern Utah, along with recent improvements to area freeways, indicate that sufficient will exists to implement the long-term Unified Transportation Plan.
“We need to continue to do what is needed, and we will continue to see the support (from Utah residents),” he said.
Gochnour said a possible source of revenue needed for improving the system could be a user tax of some kind, such as a motor-fuel tax that charges more to those who use roads more often — “the more you drive, the more you pay,” she explained.
The final decision on what revenue-generating mechanism would be chosen will come from elected leaders, she said.
In order to reach the goal of 183,000 jobs by 2040, Gochnour said Utahns would have to make some sacrifices to help pay for the ongoing maintenance of the existing transportation infrastructure, as well as new upgrades that will be required by 2040.
“It takes a lot of foresight to invest in the future,” she said. “We have to find a way to pay for the needs of a growing economy.”
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