I always get nervous when I find myself agreeing with a Republican legislator. But last week I read in The Salt Lake Trivial an editorial by State Sen. Greg Bell (R-Farmington) about transportation issues, and I had to cheer.
I must disclose that I worked with Sen. Bell last year on a task force to rewrite Utah’s land-use planning laws for this session of the Legislature, and that my new law partner is Republican Speaker of the House Greg Curtis. Those associations won’t keep me from writing frequently about the inanities of the dominant party in the Legislature, but I believe that when someone makes a good proposal they should be congratulated, whatever their political affiliations.
That willingness to recognize good deeds also gives one license to criticize the bad. And the bad in this case is my near certainty that Sen. Bell won’t be able to talk enough sense into his colleagues to get the proposals passed.
Bell’s editorial advocated adopting a comprehensive transportation plan for the Wasatch Front. He pointed out if we don’t plan now for our transportation needs it may be too late to make good choices in the future. The proposal did not just focus on building new roads but considered light rail, commuter rail and other solutions. And while the plan won’t please everyone (what plan ever does?), it was a good start.
But Bell’s proposals don’t go far enough. We need even more new transportation alternatives, and we need them far sooner, than the senator argued for. We need the Legacy/Mountain View Corridor and we needed it last year, as anyone trying to drive during rush hour will attest as they sit gridlocked for precious minutes, their lives being wasted while the air becomes polluted. We need a light-rail line to the airport and to the southwest and southeast parts of the Salt Lake Valley, as well as north to Davis County. We need bus routes that make sense, and far more of them.
The senator also did not come clean on how big the bill for our future transportation system would be, nor how we should pay for it. It is those issues that explain why the Legislature won’t have the guts to pull the trigger and make a better future happen.
The cost of a world-class transportation system, and the repair of our existing facilities, is several billions of dollars over the next decade. And the only way to pay for it since we won’t get any more Olympic-related federal handouts is through a combination of taxes, fees, bonds, and more creative financing opportunities such as toll roads and public/private partnerships.
Legislators, especially rural Republicans, hate even the concept of taxes and fees. They also fail to recognize that bonding for infrastructure at current low interest rates is a great investment for our future productivity and our quality of life—not to mention the thousands of high-paying jobs that the construction activities themselves will create. And, sadly, most of the Legislature isn’t smart enough to comprehend such financing alternatives as allowing developers to bid on the locations of freeway off-ramps or light-rail stops by offering assistance in the cost of construction.
If Gov. Huntsman wants to start building a legacy of something we can all be proud of in the future, I hope that he chooses to work with Sen. Bell and other reasonable people from both parties to solve the otherwise inevitable transportation problems of the future now, before it is too late.