Prepare Today for Twice as Many People

Research conducted by Utah Foundation indicates that Utah’s population may nearly double by 2050. That seems like a long ways away, but it’s really not. I won’t be around, but my newly-born granddaughter will only be 36 in 2050. She’ll probably have a young family by then.

So how do we preserve Utah’s enviable quality of life for her and the other 5 million Utahns in 2050? The decisions and investments we make today will determine what sort of state our children and grandchildren will inherit.

Infrastructure is one of the big issues. And because vehicle miles travelled always grows faster than population, by 2050 there will be more than twice as many vehicles on Utah’s roads if current trends continue. Certainly, Utah’s road and highway systems can’t handle that many, and will have to be expanded. But most of the population growth will come in Utah’s urban areas, and UDOT leaders have already said it will be simply impossible to double highway capacity along the Wasatch Front.

Therefore, growth has to be smart. The principles of Wasatch Choice for 2040 will take on much greater importance. Planners need to develop mixed-use population centers around public transit hubs, where people can live, work, play and shop, with most facilities within walking distance. Single family homes with big lots will still be available, but many residents are expected to embrace a more urban lifestyle. Such development will allow the region to preserve open space, reduce highway travel, and reduce the costs of infrastructure build-out.

To avoid clogged roads in 2050, public transit will need to be significantly expanded, especially more frequent and convenient bus service connecting neighborhoods with existing rail backbone. Our children and grandchildren will be greatly appreciative that our generation invested in rail lines. That backbone will become more and more important. More trains and cars can be put the tracks at relatively low cost.

Future generations will also be appreciative that we constructed projects that are now very controversial, like the West Davis Highway. With double the population, I-15 through Davis County will simply not provide enough capacity. We’ll also need much more “active transportation” facilities – bikeways, and walking and jogging trails.

Wall-to-wall cities will require more county-wide and regional planning, and integration of basic services, as promoted by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.  Certainly, we want to maintain our neighborhood and city identities. We can do that, but it won’t make sense to have a hodgepodge of overlapping and disjointed services.

Preparing for double the population will require a great amount of work, but Utah has a secret weapon – a willingness to collaborate and work for the greater good. I help with the Salt Lake Chamber’s Transportation Coalition, and I’m continually impressed with the willingness of disparate groups to work together. If we continue in that spirit, our children and grandchildren can enjoy great lives in Utah.