Utah's population growth has spilled over onto the state's roads and highways and pushed transportation concerns to the top of lawmakers' to-do lists.
Figuring out how to pay for the $1.36 billion widening of I-15 in Salt Lake County and other road projects, like a proposed west-side highway through Davis County, will occupy much of their time during the 1997 session of the Utah Legislature."Everything pales in significance," said House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Bush, R-Clearfield.
The Legislature will consider a variety of options to fund $2.6 billion in road improvements over the next 10 years, including the I-15 rebuild set to begin in April. The funding plan, to be hammered out in coming weeks, likely will include an increase in the state's per-gallon gas tax and could involve a sales-tax hike and an increase in car-registration fees.
But road building and funding won't get all the attention. Those who use Utah's roadways could be impacted by new legislation, especially young drivers and those who choose to drink and drive.
A bill likely to receive some debate is a revision of the state's driver's-license laws that would place limitations on young drivers, ages 16-21, for the first year they're on the road. Instead of being fully licensed, the proposal, sponsored by Bush, would give first-time drivers provisional licenses.
During the first six months, new license holders would not be able to drive without a parent, guardian or adult spouse sitting next to them, and everyone in the vehicle would have to wear seat belts. During the next six months, the young driver could drive alone but not between midnight and 5 a.m., unless commuting to or from work or working on a farm. An alcohol or drug-related conviction would prevent the driver from moving on to the next provisional level for another six months.
Nearly 25 percent of Utahns killed in traffic accidents in 1994 were between the ages of 15 and 20.
"I think there's a great need for our young people to have more experience before they're turned loose on the highways and freeways," Bush said. "These kids we've got are bright kids, and they've been trained in driver ed, but nothing takes the place of experience."
A bill sponsored by Rep. Nora Stephens, R-Sunset, would lower the level of blood-alcohol content at which a driver is considered legally intoxicated from 0.08 to 0.04, making Utah's drunken-driving law the toughest in the country.
Other bills would: increase the fine for driving a vehicle with an unrestrained child; increase the cost of license re-instatement after an alcohol- or drug-related offense; and give counties the option of requiring vehicle emission inspections every two years for cars less than five years old.