SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, jumped on the Utah Transit Authority's route 500 bus Tuesday morning to jet over to TRAX at the Matheson Courthouse and from there got on a FrontRunner train to stop off at a meeting in Murray.
It was the first part of his "clean air" tour that continued on into Utah County for a visit to Brigham Young University's campus, a walk to the Rock Canyon Amphitheater and a town hall meeting.
The day ended with a walk to Utah Lake State Park.
Early that morning, he visited with Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox at the state Capitol for a brief discussion on how to quell emissions that plague northern Utah in the winter, especially when inversions set in. At times, the Wasatch Front struggles with some of the highest pollution levels in the country, trapped along the valley floor by the mountains to the east and aggravated by the Great Salt Lake.
The fine particulate pollution, or PM2.5, is about 3 percent the diameter of a human hair and enters the lungs. Through health studies it has been linked to respiratory issues, heart problems, premature death and early onset dementia.
Curtis admitted it is a tough problem on the federal side to invoke a fix.
"That is what is elusive right now, how the feds can help," Curtis said. "On the federal level, what can I be doing to help the state?"
Cox said because the majority of emissions come from tailpipes, the state's involved in an aggressive campaign to get individual vehicles off the road as much as possible.
In particular, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality partners with UCAIR (a statewide clean air partnership) to encourage the use of mass transit, trip chaining, carpooling and telecommuting as air quality begins to worsen. The Utah Legislature spent just over $500,000 for a pilot program for free fare days during bad air days and is also spending money on a state teleworking program.
Federal dollars, Cox noted, are key to expanding transit infrastructure, which only works for people if it is convenient, affordable and people can easily access it.
Curtis noted that the "last mile" of many people's commute is traveled by the wildly popular and relatively new hordes of scooters being introduced on the streets of metropolitan America.
"They are amazingly convenient, but a little dangerous," Curtis said.
Cox, who works in Salt Lake City but lives in Fairview, Sanpete County, and is well-known for his long, two-hour commute, said he works from home on bad air days.
"They don't have TRAX down in Fairview," he said, smiling.
In the meeting in Murray with the Wasatch Front Regional Council, the UTA and area residents, Curtis and authorities discussed five key strategies to reduce vehicle trips, including expansion of transit, family-friendly bicycle infrastructure, boosting local street connectivity and promotion of mixed used centers that incorporate work where you live developments.11 comments on this story
Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, said the ongoing discussions are a recognition that much work is left to be done in the air quality arena.
Curtis' clean air tour will continue Wednesday in the southeast portion of the state, where he plans to do some biking in Moab.
He said his motivation for organizing the tour is to continue the dialogue on being good stewards.
"The takeaway is there is a lot of interest and all sorts of people who are gunning for the same answers I am."