A report from non-partisan research group Utah Foundation says road repairs and increased public transit options top the list of ways to prepare for population growth along the Wasatch Front. But the question is who will pay for it?
A quarter of Utah’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition according to the American Society of Civil Engineers and officials with the Utah Department of Transportation say most of the state’s bridges are on the verge of needing to be replaced or repaired. Mallory Bateman with Utah Foundation says right now Utahns spend 26 percent of their income on transportation.
“We’re pretty well connected in the Wasatch Front,” Bateman says. “We do drive a lot, but it’s pretty compact area. And so if we do keep increasing our concentric circles of urbanism, those costs are going to rise and that might impact transportation funding. That might impact where people can live and what they can do for livelihood and decision makers just need to keep that in their heads.”
In the second report in a three-part series on population growth, Utah Foundation finds urban sprawl is increasing the state’s transportation burdens, environmental impacts and wildfire risks. Last month, state lawmakers discussed a proposal to increase the gas tax for the first time since the 1990’s to pay for transportation improvements.
But Rolayne Fairclough, a spokesperson for AAA Utah says she’s hopeful other options will be on the table as a gas tax increase might not be sustainable for long-term transportation needs.
“Initially, it gives a boost to the funding,” Fairclaough says. “Over time the inflation picks up and you don’t have the energy from that tax that you used to have. So unless that tax is increased incrementally and regularly, you don’t have the effectiveness from it.”
State transportation officials say the current rate isn’t enough to maintain existing roads and bridges.