If you want advice on how to invest your money, you don't seek it from the Utah Department of Transportation or the Utah Transit Authority. Their specialty - surprise - is transportation and not mutual funds.
Similarly, to get a handle on transportation needs along the Wasatch Front for the next 50 years, a bank is probably not the first place you go to get that information.Which is why it's surprising to have economists for Zions Bank and First Security Bank refer to the TRAX light-rail project the same way most world leaders refer to Saddam Hussein. Their comments were in conjunction with the Utah Bankers Association annual convention - in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Granted, Salt Lake bankers, along with a lot of others, are highly inconvenienced by light-rail construction on Main Street, but that's not the real problem with light rail, according to Jeff Thredgold, president of Thredgold Economic Associates and economic consultant to Zions Bank. The real problem, he says, "is that none of us plan to ride it."
Thredgold believes that everyone who commutes to downtown along the Wasatch Front expects his neighbors to take the train to work, but they have no intention of doing so themselves. First Security Bank's chief economist, Kelly K. Matthews, is similarly pessimistic.
Confusing the issue in Sun Valley were comments by John Mitchell, economist for U.S. Bank and a Portland, Ore., resident whose city has already put in a light-rail system with what he described as less-than-happy results. "Ridership is far below the projections made before it was built. If anything, traffic is getting worse."
Those are inaccurate statements based on stories by Deseret News transportation writer Zack Van Eyck and on comments made to the Deseret News Thursday by Mary Fetsch, spokeswoman for the Portland Area Transit Agency.
"He (Mitchell) is completely wrong. We're held up as a national model," Fetsch said. She added that ridership projections have been exceeded starting with the inaugural run in September of 1986 when Portland's light rail had 19,500 riders to a high of more than 34,000 daily riders in April of this year. Portland's system has been so successful that a new 18-mile line is opening in September.
While gloomy, the views of Thredgold and Matthews are certainly worth noting. And, as we have pointed out in a number of editorials on mass transit, if the alternative forms of travel are not convenient, then they will indeed become nothing more than the expensive white elephants that Thredgold and Matthews predict.
But that's true with everything, as bankers well know. When banks wouldn't or couldn't provide certain services, credit unions came into being.
Growth along the Wasatch Front is projected to more than triple by 2050, increasing from a population of 1.6 million to 5 million. That will require massive transportation adjustments.
We support state and local entities in their multifaceted transportation plan to handle the growth. That includes the reconstruction of I-15, development of the Legacy Highway, light rail and commuter rail. Temporary inconveniences and pessimistic pronouncements notwithstanding, all need to go forward as part of a comprehensive package.