Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Skyline of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018.

Salt Lake County is growing, and the process of planning for that growth will require community and stakeholder involvement from across the valley. Good government builds consensus and works through collaboration, something that planning attempts in this county have struggled with, both in the past and more recently. The city mayors in the southwest portion of the county are working to offer a better way forward.

I believe it’s important to create a visioning document that can better plan for our region of the county. I’ve heard from so many of you about the struggles with traffic congestion and have experienced it myself. My participation on various boards has alerted me to the fact that our utility infrastructure — water, sewer, etc. — is also under strain. With that understanding, last summer I joined the mayors in West Jordan, South Jordan, Herriman, Bluffdale and Copperton in a series of monthly meetings, and then weekly meetings during the legislative session. In those discussions, we outlined our shared priorities and a vision for the future.

Those of us in the Southwest Mayors’ Coalition, as it’s come to be known, have decided to embark on a more holistic visioning study for the entire southwest. Recognizing that we cannot just plan in a silo, this visioning effort will commence in the next month, with a tremendous amount of outreach to property owners, utility providers, school districts and residents. We hope to chart a new path that can soothe tensions and strengthen coordination.

By state law, the county is required to develop a master plan for its unincorporated areas, much like cities are for their incorporated areas. And as the southwest’s population booms, attention inevitably turns to the valley’s west bench where the bulk of remaining buildable land exists. These plans not only affect the sparsely populated and undeveloped west bench, but all the cities to its east that are already teeming with population and infrastructure.

Growth inevitably has spillover effects broader than just building new homes on previously vacant land. Transportation in particular is a critical problem to address. Many of our roads, like 12600 South, are already congested. Creating new residential areas on the west bench without investments to improve east-west connectivity or finishing improvements to Bangerter Highway and Mountain View Corridor inevitably means that most inhabitants will have to commute along existing roads through our cities. Without proper planning to accommodate this increased traffic, we will be stuck with frustrating traffic jams, strained infrastructure and poor open spaces that significantly impact the quality of life. That’s not an outcome anybody should be eager for.

Salt Lake County needs to learn the lessons from Olympia Hills. County Councilman Steve DeBry was a voice of reason and demonstrated leadership in listening to his constituents’ concerns. Thanks to the efforts of the southwest mayors, DeBry and most of all from the residents that mobilized, pressure was put on then-Mayor Ben McAdams to veto the project, avoiding a plan that would have negatively impacted neighboring communities. Unfortunately, current planning attempts by the county seem to be repeating the same mistakes.

6 comments on this story

It’s a new idea to have the cities come together to craft their own plan, but that is the kind of innovative, collaborative solution we need. With funding from both the county and the participating cities, we’ve invited county and city planners, engineers and elected officials to participate in this process. I urge the county to work with us to develop a smart, comprehensive plan. Getting everybody on the same page now can avoid needless divisiveness, congestion and strain down the road, and that’s the kind of leadership everyone in Salt Lake County deserves.

It’s time for Salt Lake County and all of the cities to work together as we plan for a sustainable future. And with as much growth as we’ve experienced and are projected to experience in the southwest, we really have one last chance to get it right.