Editor's note: Greg Bell is a member and the incoming chairman of the Utah Transit Authority Board of Trustees.
It’s inversion season, and everyone’s talking about it. Somebody ought to do something about it! But what?
Poor air quality has significant health impacts, especially for children and those with heart and lung conditions. We breathe in tiny particulates from polluted air that rest in our lungs and interfere with oxygenation and impair circulation.
We can’t change the geography and weather patterns that cause inversions. But transit can help us significantly reduce the emissions that get trapped beneath the inversion’s lid.
Many think industry is the main source of harmful emissions. Actually, according to KUED, that accounts for only 11 percent. Homes and other buildings contribute 32 percent. But the bad boys are cars and trucks, which contribute an enormous 57 percent. Thankfully, new clean technology for vehicles is beginning to be phased in. Tier III cars and fuel will reduce a car’s emissions by 80 percent; however all new cars sold in Utah won’t be Tier III-compliant until 2025. It will take many more years for the existing fleet of cars and trucks to be retired. Even then, population growth and the steady increase of miles traveled per vehicle will offset Tier III gains.
You and I know we should do more about air quality, mainly by riding transit. But it isn’t always convenient, and some can’t make it work. We need to do better.
According to Envision Utah, our state’s population has doubled in the last 30 years; by 2050 we’ll add another 2.5 million people. Most of that growth will be along the Wasatch Front. Los Angeles and Atlanta have taught us that you can’t build enough freeways to handle all the traffic. Mass transit must be a significant part of the transportation solution.
Some urban advocates want to force people out of their cars by starving them from more pavement. That’s not the Utah way. Just as we have a mix of residential neighborhoods along the Wasatch Front, we have also developed a diversified transportation system. The state has spent billions of dollars on highways in the last 20 years in rebuilding I-15 and building Legacy Highway, Mountain View Corridor, Pioneer Crossing, and other important highway projects. In the same period, the Utah Transit Authority has built a first-class light and heavy rail system, as well as bus rapid transit projects. We’ve also expanded bus service dramatically.
UTA got some black marks a few years ago. Through strong board leadership and a new management team, UTA has taken stock and renewed itself. We’ve adopted the highest standards of ethics and transparency. We’ll make UTA even better.
Understandably, the Legislature and affected local governments want to make certain that public moneys are well spent and public business is conducted openly and prudently. Accordingly, the Legislature will likely consider alternative governance structures. UTA will continue to cooperate as the Legislature considers these policy issues.
The critical need is for all of us, including UTA, to focus on the future. The state, Salt Lake and Utah County and affected communities have begun to plan for the mega-development on and around the re-purposed prison site in Draper with an eye to accommodating the explosive growth of Silicon Slopes. This area has become one of Utah’s prime economic centers, and the Bluffdale/Lehi area is Utah’s population “belly button.” There’s little room to build more highways through that bottleneck. Trains and buses — especially those that travel outside of roadways — are the force multipliers we need. Utahns are very comfortable riding mass transit, and our system has great reach. We don’t appreciate enough that you can ride from the Provo Mall or from Weber County to the Salt Lake International Airport with one quick transfer.
What is most timely and important is that UTA get back to doing what it has done so well: envision future transportation needs and partner with cities, counties, UDOT, the state, the business community and our great universities to provide seamless transit options for commuters, students and event attendees.
Rely on UTA to continue to play its pivotal role in maintaining Utah as a great and accessible place to live, work and play — and as one of the best ways to fight pollution.