Unless something is done to improve transportation along the Wasatch Front, the entire area will suffer economically, three people heavily involved in transportation told members of the Pioneer Partnership at the Alta Club recently.
In the past 20 years traffic along the I-15 corridor between Ogden and Provo has doubled, causing traffic congestion and air quality problems, said John C. Pingree, Utah Transit Authority general manager.Everyone involved with transportation is trying to determine what solutions will be most beneficial to the community in the year 2010, Pingree said. So far, the alternatives consist of implementing light rail, adding lanes to I-15 and expanding bus service.
He said UTA bus fares are among the lowest in the country, but light rail would carry more passengers per dollar. He cited Calgary as an example of a city where light rail works.
It would be a lengthy process to persuade people to use buses or light rail instead of driving alone in their cars, Pingree said, but if drivers see a benefit to using public transportation, they will change.
Craig Zwick, Utah Department of Transportation executive director, said Utah is receiving some highway demonstration funds from the federal government that will help, but when compared to the enormous amount needed, that money is only a drop in the bucket. He said 80 percent of the money UDOT receives goes to maintaining the present highway system, which doesn't leave much for projects like adding lanes to I-15.
He said UDOT receives plenty of requests from the Environmental Protection Agency to change the transportation system in order to clean up the air. He said state officials need to be better partners with the EPA to convince them the state is trying to have cleaner air.
Sara Colosimo, UDOT research project director, said the population along the Wasatch Front will increase 50 percent in the next 25 years and that Salt Lake City already ranks third in the United States in increase in traffic congestion.
She said a major goal of I-15 construction is alleviating gridlock and increasing the average speed on the highway, which can be done by reducing the number of vehicles traveling the freeway.
Colosimo said some states have installed ramp metering that adjusts the number of cars entering a freeway and provides traffic information via signs so people will avoid problem areas.