SALT LAKE CITY — Truckers and cyclists found common cause on Wednesday morning as they rallied outside the Capitol in favor of improvements to Utah's transportation system.
The Utah Transportation Coalition organized a slate of lawmakers and local officials to speak about the need to improve the state's infrastructure and gathered representatives of disparate groups to push for such changes in the final weeks of the legislative session.
Some rally attendees held signs proclaiming that they buckle up for the their children, addressing a proposal from Rep. Lee Perry, a Perry Republican, that would make not wearing a seatbelt a more serious traffic offense. Others waved posters advocating clean air and bicyclist-friendly policies.
But the issue that seemed to unite the crowd was the need to increase the state's transportation funding. Speakers at the rally cited projections that the state's population will double by 2050, placing increasing stress on the state's deteriorating infrastructure.
Lawmakers are considering proposals that would raise those funds by increasing the gas tax for the first time since 1997.
"I love the honesty, and I love the forward thinking" of the proposals, which would address Utah's needs for the next 30 years, said Rep. Johnny Anderson, a Taylorsville Republican.
Anderson has a proposal that would replace the flat gas tax with one that varies with fuel prices. The tax would be calculated annually based on the state's average gas price the previous year.
The bill would also allow counties to charge a local sales tax to pay for highways and public transit.
Meanwhile, senators are expected to vote Wednesday afternoon on a bill introduced by Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, a Vernal Republican, that would increase the gas tax by 10 cents to 34.5 cents a gallon. It also raises the diesel fuel tax by 5 cents, putting it at 29.5 cents per gallon.
Tassell's bill would use that money to provide additional funding to the Department of Transportation. Beginning in 2015, the department would receive $40 million annually for maintenance on smaller roads, joined in 2017 by an annual $25 million for bridge replacement projects.
According to the Utah Transportation Coalition, 584 of the state's bridges are due for replacement. The organization also says that while funding for highways and other major roadways has increased in recent years, the funding for smaller roads has been inadequate.
Kaysville Mayor Steve Hiatt told the crowd on the Capitol steps that a Utah Foundation survey of engineers, local government officials and others found that more than 80 percent thought current transportation funding was insufficient.
We must do something now," Hiatt said, calling it "the fiscally responsible thing to do."