A new proposal to transfer jurisdiction of some state roads to local governments is vastly superior to a similar-but-excessive plan floated a few months ago. In fact, this one was put forth by the Utah League of Cities and Towns and the Utah Association of Counties and has widespread endorsement. It deserves serious consideration.
Sponsored last legislative session by Sen. John Holmgren, R-Bear River, SB176 would have transferred some 4,200 miles of state roadways to local governments. That was far too much then or now.Concerns included long-term funding and the loss of Utah Department of Transportation coordination as each locality looked out only for its own interests. It would have gutted UDOT and put burdens of long-term maintenance on local governments not staffed or financed to manage them well over the long haul.
In essence, it had the feel of a federal mandate: Let the state unload its roads on those closest to home, and let the locals figure how to make it all work.
Though the measure fortunately failed to pass, it was modified to require interim study of the issue and a new recommendation or bill.
This latest plan, presented last week to the Legislature's Transportation Interim Committee, is much more reasonable. It calls for state divestiture of 492 miles of roads to local control. The city-county proposal also outlined how state road money should be allocated to cities and counties so they could effectively maintain and improve the roadways.
It also establishes seven categories of transferable roads, from high-use urban arterials to "rural minor collectors." Each lane-mile of road would receive an equal amount of state funding, apparently ensuring adequate financial support over time.
UDOT would gladly relinquish some of the roads toward the bottom of its priority list. Those same stretches would be at the top of the lists for local governments and would be given more attention. The transfer would allow greater local control of speed limits and access as well.
While the plan merits a good look, consideration must be given to ensure effective coordination for maintaining roadways that pass through multiple jurisdictions; and for displaced UDOT workers. Nevertheless, this certainly is more reasonable than the original bill.
A final advantage could be to allow UDOT to put more thought and effort into mass-transit issues as it surrenders roads to other entities. It is, after all, the state's transportation department - which should go beyond merely roads and highways.