Utah’s Growing Population Puts Focus on Transportation

By Marty Carpenter, Salt Lake Chamber

A few years ago, when my wife and I had two children, we started thinking ahead to the time our oldest child would head off to start kindergarten. My wife, being the one who usually thinks of these things well before they dawn on me, kindly pointed out that we would soon be expected to play an active role in carpoolsto get our daughter and some of her neighborhood friends to school. That meant it was time for us to enter the minivan stage of parenthood.

I remember thinking how odd that was. After all, we had two kids and we fit nicely into the sedans my wife and I drove at the time. But her argument made sense and so we started the hunt for a minivan.

A short time later, we had made our purchase. Just over a year after that, we found out we were expecting twins. That minivan–which seemed like a luxury, something nice to have but not necessary–had become a necessity. And we were grateful we had the right vehicle to handle our growing family as the number of children we had to be able to move around was about to double.

As a state, we find ourselves in a similar situation. We have a transportation system that keeps goods and people moving without gridlock. Everything seems just fine. A new, metaphorical minivan may seem like more than we need. However, unlike my wife and me, we, as a state, know a population boom is coming. Our preparation for it does not have to be a stroke of good fortune; it should be the result of strategic investment.

Utah’s business community has long been and continues to be the champion for investment in our roads, rails and yes, even our bike and walking paths. The Salt Lake Chamber has formed the Utah Transportation Coalition, co-chaired by H. David Burton, the former presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and David Golden, the former chair of the Salt Lake Chamber Board of Governors who oversees commercial banking activities throughout the eight mountain states for Wells Fargo. These are accomplished, experienced businessmen who understand the importance of investment and how to maximize a return.

Burton and Golden are armed with a detailed plan, Utah’s 2040 Unified Transportation Plan. This document has been developed and agreed on by key stakeholders. It is impressive in its level of detail, including enhancements to major freeways, mass transit and even active transportation options like bike paths and walking trails.

To test the economic impact of fully implementing the Unified Transportation Plan, the Utah Transportation Coalition commissioned a study by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston. The full study is available at here. An executive summary of the study can be found here. The results: put the plan into action and we’ll see nearly 183,000 new jobs created by 2040, $130.5 billion in additional household income, $183.6 billion in additional GDP and $22.2 billion in additional tax revenues from economic growth. Those are some serious numbers.

There is one hurdle we need to overcome.

To fully implement the Unified plan, we need $54.7 billion. We have planned for $43.4 billion of that, leaving us $11.3 billion short of getting the biggest bang for our buck. “Billion” is a number that can be overwhelming. Boil it down and ask yourself if you would invest $54 to get a return of $183. It’s a no brainer.

Utah’s population is expected to increase by approximately 60 percent by 2040. If we decide to be satisfied with the investment we have made in our roads and rails over the past ten years, we’ll find ourselves with plenty of time stuck in traffic to consider the consequences of that decision.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you build it, they will come.” In Utah the refrain is more like, “They’re coming, so you better build it.”