Clear air proponents rally around bill proposing transit tax
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Proponents of a legislative measure say it opens the door to an array of options aimed at cleaning Utah's air during winter temperature inversions and summer's sweltering smog.
More bus routes, more buses, extended transit hours and a larger van pool. Better bike trails, more bike trails, and more bikes to maneuver from place to place.
"This truly is the only way to really clean the air — if we can take some of the cars off the road," Draper Mayor Troy Walker said. "On behalf of all the mayors in the county, we support this."
Walker spoke at a news conference Wednesday to rally political momentum for HB388, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, in partnership with Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. The measure passed in a legislative committee last week but has yet to have a full hearing before either the House or the Senate.
Surrounded by electric buses and bicycles, the two men said it is imperative counties be allowed to let their voters have their say when it comes to transit options.
"This allows counties to ask their residents if they are willing to stretch both with their dollars and their lifestyle" when it comes to making clean air choices via transit, Anderson said.
Under the proposal, county leaders — from Washington County in the south to Cache County in the north — could put to voters a proposed 0.25 percent sales tax increase on a general election ballot. If voters approve, that money would fund locally identified improvements to mass transit, bike trails or other options to get people out of their cars.
"I hoped we might see a day like today," Briscoe said, gesturing toward the clear valley view from the base of the steps at the Utah Capitol.
Briscoe added that he hoped to see more days with views unencumbered by haze or smog, something he believes can be an enticing reality if people are given more transportation choices, especially during bad air days.
"People want to get out of their cars," he said, adding that support in HB388 is growing throughout the state.
"I am excited by the momentum," Briscoe said.
The measure, if put into law, would increase transportation options in places such as Park City and Washington County, where bus service independent of UTA could be improved, he said.
"This is not just about Salt Lake County," Briscoe said.
Supporters say the measure would be one of the most effective ways of reducing tailpipe emissions, which contribute to 57 percent of the wintertime pollution.
"We've heard the call for better bus service, increases in bus frequency and more bus routes," Anderson said.
A survey by the Salt Lake Chamber, which has thrown its support behind the measure, shows that 76 percent of Utah voters support transportation initiatives to improve air quality.
The analysis shows that an increase in transit funding across the entire service area would boost ridership by 53 percent and double the amount of van pools.
The Utah League of Cities and Towns and the Salt Lake Valley Conference of Mayors also have thrown their support behind the proposal.
Will Becker, manager of Salt Lake City's bike share program, said city leaders hear the repeated demand by residents for better transit options.
"Air quality is the No. 1 issue for us," Becker said, "and getting more people on bikes for a short distance downtown is what we want to do."
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