Within the next 10 years, the talk around town will not be centered on year-round schools or overcrowded classrooms. Instead, numerous potholes and the unbearable traffic on Interstate 15 will be the center of controversy, a department of transportation official said Friday.
"Education is the big thing in Utah now, but before the year 2000, transportation will be the hot issue. If more money is not put into maintenance of our highways, Utah's overall economy will be affected, because businesses will not want to locate in our state," W. Ron Delis, engineer director of the Utah Department of Transportation told transportation commissioners.Delis presented a five-year plan that outlined proposed improvements and expansions of I-15. The projects would require $995 million to complete on schedule. However, only $533 million is available. Consequently, the projects that should be completed in five years will require more than 15 years to finish, said Delis.
Priority projects that will be delayed because of lack of funding include:
-Expansion of 56th West and 54th South from two lanes to four lanes.
-Completion of the Sandy Ski Connection near 90th South, streamlining traffic to ski resorts.
-Improvement of Seventh East, Ninth East and Redwood Road from 66th South to 104th South.
By the year 2005, if new lanes aren't added to I-15 and areas of the highway rebuilt, traffic will move at a snail's pace at all hours of the day - not just peak rush hours, said Delis.
Currently, more than 2,000 cars per hour per lane travel on I-15 in the morning and evening rush hours. In the year 2005, traffic along the Wasatch Front is expected to double.
Transportation is a key factor corporations look at in deciding whether to locate in Utah. Congested highways will cause Utah to lose economic development dollars.
Rebuilding highways and roads that have eroded through lack of repair is far more costly than properly maintaining paved surfaces, he said.
"The state is going to have to finance transportation demands differently in the future. We are going to need help from the private sector and industry. As new developers build in the area, they may have to pay a portion of the cost of maintaining and building roads," Delis said.
Cities such as Sandy receive financial assistance from new developers for their roads, he said. The state may develop a similar policy.
Monies could be raised by increasing vehicle registration fees to nearly $30. Compared to the national average, the cost of registering a car in Utah is low.
Delis acknowledges his suggestion to increase registration fees will anger those who support the Tax Limitation Initiative.
If the tax protesters are successful in limiting the gasoline tax, the state will lose $30 million in its budget for roads and the cities and counties will be short $10 million, he said.
"People want better roads but don't want to have to pay for them. The dollars needed to maintain our transportation system won't materialize magically. People have to decide whether they want to drive on roads that are patched and full of pot-holes and travel at a speed of less than 40 mph on the highway at any hour of the day."
In less than 20 years, Utah highways will be as crowded as the Los Angeles highway system - if changes aren't made, he said.