SALT LAKE CITY — Mitigating the expected impacts of continued explosive growth near Point of the Mountain is attainable, according to projections released Tuesday, but taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $10 billion just for roadway and public transit improvements over the next three decades.
And failure to pony up the cash could result in higher housing costs, longer commutes, worse air quality and lost wage growth, according to the Point of the Mountain Development Commission.
Commission member and Governor's Office of Economic Development Executive Director Val Hale underscored how residents and elected officials need to adjust their mindsets to embrace changes, like higher densities and increased multi-use housing development, that will be a necessary part of responsibly managing future growth.
"These changes will require a paradigm shift," Hale said. "Housing is becoming a very critical issue. By the late 2020s an average home here could cost around $800,000 if we're not careful."
The commission released five scenarios, the result of work executed over the past year, that envision how to best utilize more than 20,000 acres of developable land near the border of Salt Lake and Utah counties. The expanse includes the 700-acre Draper prison site, expected to be vacated in 2021 when the new facility in west Salt Lake City is ready for tenants.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Monday that it's not too early to start talking about the sizeable fiscal burden associated with accommodating the growth and how to address it.
"The work in the next year is try to decide, given the costs that are going to be required, how we as a state pay for that," said Snow, co-chairman of the commission created by the Utah Legislature in 2016. "This projection is 2050, which seems like a long time, but that 30 years will go fast."
The five scenarios provide a guess at future impacts of growth and reflect that without significant investments in public infrastructure and cohesive, long-range development plans, quality of life for residents in the area is due to take a turn for the worse.
The commission's report notes that rapid growth at Point of the Mountain is expected to continue, and the 20,000 acres will be built out with or without a plan of action in place.
At the top of the priority list, according to the report, are two objectives: catalyzing economic growth in a way that "substantially increases the number of high-paying jobs in the region" and to "accommodate the catalyzed growth in a way that maintains a high quality of life across transportation and other metrics."
Estimated price tags for roads and transit improvements range from $3.7 billion in the base scenario that envisions the minimal investments to accommodate growth to the top-tier vision, which does the most to protect housing costs, wage growth, air quality and commute times, but comes with an $11.4 billion bill — with about half going to roads and half to transit expansions.
The big-ticket version would pay for new east-west connecting roadways in the area, double-tracking FrontRunner from Ogden to Provo to accommodate more frequent service, extending the TRAX Blue Line, and adding lanes to Mountain View Corridor and Redwood Road. And under scenarios D and E, public transit would be free, systemwide.
Commission member Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said the "do nothing" option would have dire consequences for transportation challenges and lead to massive gridlock both on the main north-south corridors through the area, as well as the east-west routes.
"The growth is happening, whether we want it or not," McAdams said. "Right now, we have the opportunity to make decisions and lay plans that will help preserve and maintain the excellent quality of life that we all enjoy here."
According to the commission's findings, failure to make investments could lead to 30 percent longer commutes, $100 per household in additional monthly transportation costs, $10,000 less per year in wages, higher housing costs and over $7 billion less voming into state coffers from sales and income tax collections.
A key aspect of the findings is the positive impacts the commission anticipates will come with attracting a research/university presence as part of the redevelopment of the Draper prison site. That facility could be best leveraged, according to the report, at the top two transportation funding levels, which would also help attract other "marquee" companies.
Snow said targeting the prison site as an economic catalyzer was part of the pledge legislators made when deciding to relocate the facility to Salt Lake City.
"When the new prison was sold to the citizens of our state … (we made) a promise or committment that the old prison site would be specifically utilized to enhance and promote economic growth," he said.
Consultant Taylor Mammen told the commission that a "thicker" labor market and strong anchor endeavors — like a research park/university facility — could be one of those catalysts, along with improving the education level of the current workforce, attracting more, larger companies to Utah and helping facilitate expansion of local innovation companies. Start-ups alone, Mammen said, won't provide enough economic impetus.
Ari Bruening, Envision Utah's chief operating officer, highlighted the ripple-effect that innovation sector employment represents, outlining that for every tech job that's filled, the state gains 4 direct-support jobs, 8 peripheral jobs, $816,000 in annual personal income and $17,400 in net annual state revenues.25 comments on this story
The commission is on track to determine a preferred scenario by January and will be meeting with stakeholders and residents in the coming weeks to gather input on the five choices.
Residents interested in participating will need to respond quickly, as the only two public meetings scheduled for review of the scenarios are scheduled for 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Ashton Gardens Visitor Center, 3900 N. Garden Drive, Lehi; and 6-7 p.m. Thursday at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, 12033 Lone Peak Parkway, Draper.
To see the full commission report including additional scenario details, visit pointofthemountainfuture.org.