SALT LAKE CITY — Epic highway congestion, a dearth of affordable housing options, continued poor air quality and devolution into a place that will be avoided by new and expanding businesses, thanks to declining quality of life, are among the highlights awaiting those who will be working and/or residing in the central Wasatch Front in 2050.
That's according to a "baseline scenario" report presented by Envision Utah Thursday. The report marks the beginning of Phase 2 of work for the Point of the Mountain Development Commission.
To be clear, these are projections of potential future outcomes based on current trends in development and population growth (the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah just released projections that the state will grow from its current 3 million residents to 5.8 million by 2065) and would only come to fruition if no new planning efforts were implemented, according to the report.
But, Envision Utah President and CEO Robert Grow said the time for devising interventions is now.
"Cast your mind forward 33 years," Grow said. "Is this what you want? We're not going to cause this, it's coming regardless."
Grow's team assembled data and research expertise to help create a conversation starting point for planning strategies that looked at future scenarios focused on five areas, including residential/commercial development, transportation, job growth/workforce development, air quality and open space/recreation/water use. The work follows completion of a multifaceted Point of the Mountain outreach and study effort that was completed in May and is focused on finding the best functional, and economic, outcomes for some 22,000 acres of undeveloped property in the area, including the current Draper prison site.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is a commission member, and earlier this month he co-chaired a stakeholder meeting on transportation issues. He told his fellow commission members Thursday that the current, unfettered vision of Point of the Mountain's transportation future is grim.
"We looked at the 2050 projections, and the transportation infrastructure long-range plan and, assuming we could fund and build it, the shocking thing is even if we do that, we’ll still have major congestion," McAdams said. "We certainly need to look at other things to change that trajectory."
While Envision's projections took into account currently planned regional road projects like the Mountain View Corridor freeway, widening of I-15 through Lehi, a new freeway interchange just south of the Salt Lake County-Utah County line, and others, it did not include any transit expansions, of which none are currently planned or funded.
Vehicle-miles traveled in the study area, which stretches roughly from South Jordan to Saratoga Springs, are projected to nearly double in 2050, going from the 6.1 million recorded in 2014 to 11.5 million.
A lot of those mid-21st century travel miles will be accumulated by residents simply getting from home to work and back. That's thanks to another projected reality, that most new housing development will be separated from jobs and services. Also, the affordability of those homes will have declined, if the current track continues, since not enough apartments and condos will be built, falling short of market demand and resulting in higher housing prices.
Those new homes, along with commercial development, will likely offset air quality gains made by mandated vehicle emissions improvement that will be coming online in the future. While the study area will likely see 3.4 tons per day fewer emissions, even with the increased traffic, new buildings will put 3 tons a day back into the air in 2050.
As the compounding impacts continue, the longer commuting times, poor air quality and higher costs will push many companies away from Utah and toward more affordable, clean and walkable locations.
Cascading failures is exactly what the Legislature and assembled stakeholders hope to avoid through the work of the Point of the Mountain Development Commission. The commission, in presenting its findings, underscored that the baseline scenario is "not meant to be understood as the outcome of the visioning process." But rather a scale to which other, and more positive scenarios can be measured.
To that end, the next steps are already underway to move the visioning and planning process forward.
According to Envision Utah, small advisory groups have already begun meeting to develop paths to alternate possibilities about how the Point of the Mountain area may develop. That slate of new scenarios is expected to be ready for public and stakeholder review this fall, and there may be some early indications at that time of associated costs. Final scenarios will likely be taking shape in early 2018, according to Envision Utah.
The fiscal note that comes with the planning package could be costlier than anything seen before in the state.
As noted by McAdams, the $1 billion transportation funding package approved by the Legislature during its 2017 session doesn't sufficiently address expected growth and a ballpark estimate from the Utah Transit Authority pegs just one possible transit expansion — extending the TRAX Blue Line from its current terminus in Draper further south to Lehi — at a cost of about $1.1 billion and a six-year construction arc.