Under threat of losing 900 jobs, a state employees union is positioning itself to fight a plan to transfer a system of state roads to local governments throughout Utah.
Monday night, the Utah Public Employees' Association issued a strong warning to those studying this issue, which has been under consideration for several years."UPEA will not tolerate the loss of even one job," said Nancy Sechrist, UPEA's executive director. "It is outrageous at a time when our economy is so strong that 900 state employees could lose their jobs."
During the legislative session that ended in early March, Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, joined Sen. John Holmgren, R-Bear River, in announcing legislation that would transfer 70 percent of the road miles now maintained by the Utah Department of Transportation to cities, counties and towns throughout the state.
In discussions during the Legislature, the bill was softened simply to mandate study of the issue, but it did put the plan in some kind of context.
On Saturday, Gov. Mike Leavitt signed the substituted version of SB176, which gave authority to study and propose legislation regarding transfer of state roads and funding to local cities and towns.
Under the plan, total state road miles would drop from nearly 6,000 to less than 1,800. If all these roads were turned over, up to 900 jobs could be lost, Sechrist said.
Under the plan discussed by lawmakers, UDOT would continue to maintain and improve I-15, I-70, I-80, I-84 and I-215, and U.S. routes 6, 40, 50, parts of 89, 91, 189, 191, 666 and state routes U-9 and U-28. Just about everything else would be turned over to local authority.
Just more than a dozen roads would have stayed under UDOT jurisdiction, considerably downsizing the department and potentially making more money available for construction and reconstruction.
The first meeting of interim legislative committees is April 22.
UDOT spokeswoman Andrea Packer on Tuesday downplayed the impact to UDOT's 1,800 employees.
"We have issued no statements and have drawn no conclusions about what this bill will produce. It's very preliminary at this point to make any determinations about how it will affect resources."
UDOT will work closely with the committee as they determine how many, if any, roads should be transferred to local control.
Local governments, by and large, are all for the transfer of state roads. They think they can maintain them more efficiently on their own, and want more control over what improvements are done and when.