Although the cost-consciousness caused by the tax limitation movement may have temporarily derailed plans for a commuter train system, money to speed up the construction of the West Valley Highway is being sought from the 1989 Legislature.
Both projects are designed to ease commuter congestion, but officials on the west side of Salt Lake County have argued that their communities' needs are being ignored in favor of the train, which they believe is more beneficial to east-side residents.Gov. Norm Bangerter responded to their concerns by recommending that the Legislature approve a $12 million bond to pay for the state's share of transforming 40th West into the West Valley Highway between 21st South and 90th South.
Utah Transit Authority officials said the public mood against tax increases has them reconsidering asking for a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for the commuter train system.
The $225 million light-rail system would connect Sandy with downtown Salt Lake City on 18 miles of tracks that parallel I-15 and provide expanded bus service to bring commuters to train stations.
The project, besides adding two lanes in each direction on I-15 and modernizing the Wasatch Front's major thoroughfare, is likely to be recommended later this year in a study as the best solution to easing commuter congestion along the Wasatch Front.
It has received support from the business community as well as congressional leaders, who have pledged their support in securing federal funding for half the cost of the system.
Yet UTA General Manager John Pingree said he is getting mixed signals about whether now is the time to approach the Legislature for what may appear to be a tax increase, even though it would be up to voters to decide whether to double the amount of sales tax they pay to the transit authority.
Some advisers have suggested that because 1989 is not an election year, it would be best to ask lawmakers for the change in the upcoming session. But others have said the Legislature will be too cautious to approve it given the furor created by the three failed tax initiatives.
Pingree said he has asked legislative leaders for direction and is waiting for their response before making a final decision on how to proceed. He is optimistic that the change in the law will eventually be approved.
Bangerter's recommendation on the West Valley Highway is endorsed by the Utah Department of Transportation, even though the agency had not planned to begin work on the highway for another five or six years.
UDOT Executive Director Gene Findlay said the governor's bonding plan for the highway puts it ahead of all other transportation projects, including the widening of I-15.
Findlay emphasized that the priority given to the West Valley Highway project has not slowed down plans to add a total of four lanes to I-15 and modernize the Wasatch Front's major thoroughfare.
In fact, he said, it may someday help the freeway project by providing an alternate route for I-15 commuters during the reconstruction that will include redesigning major interchanges.
A date for the start of the renovation has not yet been set. Nor has any money been requested by UDOT this session for the project, which is estimated to cost as much as $450 million.
Findlay, who was recently appointed by the governor to head the state Administrative Services Department, said much of UDOT's time will be spent lobbying for the West Valley Highway project.
The agency will also be kept busy fighting a proposal to increase the share of state gasoline tax that goes to building and maintaining trails for off-road vehicles, he said.
UDOT will also be watching a proposal to change the state Constitution to prevent gasoline tax dollars from continuing to be used to fund the Utah Highway Patrol.
Currently, about 95 percent of the patrol's budget comes from that source, he said, adding that the governor has recommended decreasing the amount of gasoline tax money given to them by about $5 million.
Finally, he said, lawmakers will be asked to endorse a UDOT resolution opposing any increase in the federal gasoline tax that would be used to help retire the national debt.