Salt Lake City may have the distinction of hosting the 2002 Winter Games, and the logos on all the trad ing pins and T-shirts and posters certainly bear that out.
But the reality is that the 2002 Winter Olympics will be America's Games, and for that reason, all Americans should share in the financial responsibility of making them happen.At least that's the unified message from Rep. Merrill Cook and Sen. Robert Bennett, both R-Utah, who arrived in Nagano Friday to observe the Winter Games and to discuss Utah's preparations and funding needs for 2002.
"Utahns have shown their clear willingness to do their part and, rather than continuing to ask Utahns to come up with more money, it's time we say, `OK America, it's time to step up to the plate. These are America's Games,' " Cook said.
Bennett agrees, adding there is widespread support in Congress and in the White House for federal funding to complete the needed infrastructure to host the Games and to provide federal assistance with security needs.
"They all recognize that these are America's Games, not just Salt Lake's Games or Utah's Games," Bennett said. "You cannot put on an Olympics in today's world without the entire country participating."
Bennett makes no bones about it. He's in Nagano to plot strategy on how to get more federal funding for Utah's transportation and security needs related to the Olympics. Both Bennett and Cook are on key committees that will decide how much federal transportation money is earmarked for Utah, and both are meeting with Japanese officials to discuss the extent of the involvement of the national government here in paying for Winter Games infrastructure.
"The national government stood up strong for Nagano and made them Japan's Games," Cook said. "They are a tremendous source of pride for all Japanese people."
Cook says the national government of Japan put up 10 times as much money for roads as the local prefecture government (equivalent to state government). The national government also funded the expansion of the bullet train to Nagano, and it moved several Nagano-area projects higher on the priority list to get them done in time for the Olympics, rather than five or seven years from now.
"I want to make the case in Congress by showing them what Japan did for the Nagano Games," Cook said. "Japan invested in billion-dollar projects, and we are not talking about anything like that. We're talking about a reauthorization bill to get an extra $200 million to $250 million in discretionary federal funds to help America put on its Olympic Games."
Cook insists the 60 or so members of the Transportation Committee share his view that the 2002 Winter Games are America's Games, as do key committee chairmen. Another key supporter, he said, is Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who experienced the funding struggles when Atlanta hosted the Summer Games two years ago.
And despite the much-publicized battles between Gingrich and the chairman of the Transportation Committee, Cook said the speaker told him that, regardless of final resolutions of key highway funding bills, Utah will not be left holding the bag for all of the infrastructure needed to host the Games.
The trick will be to convince Congress that Utah needs the funding now, not two or three years from now when the Winter Games are imminent.
Bennett is also focused on how to unlock federal funding for I-15 and other transportation projects that are needed long before 2002. But he points out that building more and wider roads will not really alleviate the transportation problems during the Winter Games.
Bennett believes the biggest challenge will be to get local residents to change their transportation habits for the duration of the Games. That means businesses will have to change their hours so workers are not commuting during peak Olympic events; it means shoppers will have to change purchasing habits that might take them into congested areas.
In Nagano, local authorities mailed a brochure to every resident in the metropolitan area of about 350,000 people, informing them of alternative routes and road restrictions, and encouraging them to use public transportation. Police here estimate traffic was reduced by about 40 percent during the Winter Games.
Bennett is not so sure the same strategy would work in Utah, where people enjoy the independence afforded by personal automobiles. But something will have to be done to inform people of times and places of road restrictions, and to better incorporate technology to keep traffic flowing.
And there will have to be a campaign to get Utahns using public transportation before the Winter Games. "I don't see how the Games can function without light rail. It's the only way to get people off the roads," he said.
"If we can just get people into light rail prior to the Games so that they are familiar with it and comfortable with it and find it meets their needs. If we don't do a good job getting people to accept light rail, then you are not going to push them onto light rail during the Olympics."
Cook's trip is being paid by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, while Bennett's trip is official Senate business related to his transportation committee assignments. Both men paid for their wives to accompany them.