When it comes to traffic congestion, the Wasatch Front ranks well. Despite a growing population and ever-increasing pressures on roads and highways, the Salt Lake area ranked 66th on the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard (produced annually by Texas A&M) in terms of delays per auto commuter. That means 65 other cities have worse congestion.
And the area’s mass transit system, which now includes light rail, heavy commuter rail, buses and a fledgling trolley system in Sugar House, ranks high among urban systems nationwide. It tied for sixth best on a US News analysis in 2011. In 2014, the American Public Transportation Association named UTA the nation’s Outstanding Public Transportation System.
In an area where air pollution is a constant concern, these are admirable records. But they aren’t free, and a community cannot afford to build infrastructure without providing the funds necessary to maintain it.
We urge voters along the Wasatch Front, and in all 17 counties where it is on the ballot, to vote “yes” on Proposition 1.
Proposition 1 would add a quarter-cent to the sales tax in affected areas, which equates to one penny for every $4 purchase. Consumers won’t feel the difference, but local governments will.
Opponents have noted that this tax would come in addition to a 5-cent increase in the state’s gas tax, which will hit pumps at the beginning of next year. They also complain that the sales tax is a poor way to fund roads and transit because it is not, like the gas tax, a user fee.
Neither argument is an effective counter to the benefits of Proposition 1. Yes, state lawmakers have increased the gas tax. It will be the first increase since 1997, and it won’t make up for the loss in purchasing power the gas tax has suffered due to inflation and an increase in auto fuel efficiency. The gas tax is becoming increasingly ineffective as a funding mechanism for roads.
The sales tax, on the other hand, touches all aspects of the transportation system. Without smooth traffic flow, commerce would not be possible, store shelves would not be stocked and consumers could not travel to stores or expect timely deliveries.
Cities receive a small percentage of state gas tax revenues to help with the maintenance of city roads, but it isn’t enough for many of them to keep up with demands. The added revenues from Proposition 1 would provide millions more to many suburban communities. Draper Mayor Troy Walker told us the extra $1.2 million for his city would be “a game changer for us.”
Forty percent of the money from the tax would go toward the Utah Transit Authority. It would fund improvements that include new bus routes and replacing old routes that were discontinued a while back to help fund rail expansion.
We encourage you to visit www.prop1utah.com to see specific information about planned improvements in your neighborhood.
It is not enough for Utah’s communities to build a proper transportation system. They must provide the means for local governments to maintain that system over time. Too many American cities neglect that aspect and suffer choking congestion as a result.
Utah, with its air-quality issues and its booming economy, cannot afford to fall further behind. A “yes” vote on Proposition 1 is the responsible choice.