Imagine a world where cars and highways communicate with each other, sharing information about road conditions and potential dangers further down the road.

That world may be a decade or less away, as federal and state transportation officials work with automakers for smart cars and smart highways through a dedicated Direct Short Range Communications network.

UDOT Director John Nord says the technology to put such a system in place — a sort of highway Internet — is already available or will will soon be. All that's holidng back the future are the sizable costs.

"It'll cost billions of dollars. The nation has to want it and push for it," Nord said, noting that once highway departments around the country start implementation in earnest, automakers will follow.

For now, however, smart cars are taking a back seat to UDOT's more immediate goals. Nord said his department's focus this decade will be threefold: Rebuilding I-15 in Utah County; constructing the Mountain View Corridor in western Salt Lake and Utah counties; and launching the Southern Corridor belt route project in St. George.

In the meantime, the Utah Transit Authority will continue its expansion of light rail throughout the Salt Lake Valley and into Utah County.

"We're building a transit system that will be the envy of the West," said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter, pointing to the agency's plans to essentially double existing light and commuter rail tracks. "Seventy-five percent of the Wasatch Front will be within three miles of a major transit stop by 2015."

Carpenter said four UTA projects, several already under construction, are going to add 24 miles of light rail track to the current 19-mile network in the Salt Lake Valley. Additionally, lengthening commuter rail from Salt Lake County to Provo will effectively double the 44 miles of track now running between Salt Lake City and Ogden.

Carpenter said the first half of the decade will be spent getting the system's "backbone" in place. Afterward it will be about filling in the gaps, such as the Sugar House streetcar plan and multiple Bus Rapid Transit lines.

Nord said the next 10 years probably won't be enough time to complete UDOT's trio of projects, which will be built in phases.

The massive $1.7 billion redo of I-15 through Utah County is directed at significantly reducing congestion at various choke points. Phase I will be finished in 2013.

The Mountain View Corridor project is an entirely new westside route aimed at heading off traffic troubles before they ever become a problem. "While (the project) is not desperately needed today, it will be by the time it's completed," Nord explained. Once finished, it will stretch from the Lehi Main Street exit on I-15 to I-80, roughly between 5000 West and 5800 West, in Salt Lake County.

UDOT's final major undertaking of the decade will be building a belt route in St. George. It will link I-15, south of the city, with the replacement airport and state Route 9 near the town of Hurricane. The airport, now under construction, is scheduled to open in 2011.

— Chuck Gates