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UDOT may face losing 70% of road system

Senate President Lane Beattie delivered as promised last week, dropping the bombshell of the legislative session on Utah's local governments.

After hinting for a week, Beattie, R-West Bountiful, and Sen. John Holmgren, R-Bear River, announced legislation that would transfer 70 percent of the road miles now maintained by the Utah Department of Transportation to cities, counties and towns throughout the state.If Beattie has his way, just more than a dozen roads will remain under the jurisdiction of UDOT, considerably downsizing the department and potentially making more money available for new construction and reconstruction.

It was almost an understatement when Beattie called the plan "a sweeping change in the way we do business in Utah."

Under the plan, total state road miles would drop from nearly 6,000 to less than 1,800. UDOT would continue to maintain and improve I-15, I-70, I-80, I-84 and I-215, and state routes 6, 9, 28, 40, 50, parts of 89, 91, 189, 191 and 666. Just about everything else would be turned over to local authority.

In Salt Lake County, where Redwood Road, State Street, 700 East and 1300 East are now maintained by the state, only I-15, I-80 and I-215 would remain the state's responsibility. In Provo and Orem, only I-15 would stay on the state's list.

But don't look for overnight changes at UDOT, Beattie said. The transfers could be phased in over time, and little would be done without an agreement on funding issues.

"We are already getting calls from people scared to death about this proposal," Beattie admitted. " `Are you getting rid of the transportation department tomorrow?' Absolutely not!"

Eventually, though, the transfers would shrink UDOT and cause city and county transportation departments to swell.

Local governments, by and large, are all for the transfer of state roads. They think they can maintain them more efficiently on their own, and want more control over what improvements are done and when.

For example, "economies of scale say that we have the equipment and the personnel on the scene in the city to handle snow removal instead of sending in (the state's) equipment," said Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, who attended the announcement outside the Senate chambers.

"I understand where President Beattie is coming from on this."

Local leaders just want to be sure they get enough money from the state to take care of those roads without burdening local taxpayers. UDOT and local governments have been talking for several years about how to make widespread road transfer fair, and the discussion always bogs down over money.

But Beattie and Holmgren aren't concerned about that now, they just want to get the ball rolling. They couldn't even tell a media gathering Monday exactly how much money is at stake.

They want to set up an interim committee, staffed by legislators, or perhaps an independent commission to hash out the details of any funding formula. But the intent, Beattie said, is to spend more money on roads within local jurisdictions than is now being spent.

Representatives of the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah League of Cities and Towns want input in the process. The league's legislative committee met Monday and decided to stay neutral on the proposal for now. UAC officials, too, will reserve comment until they read the bill.