I joined with a few hundred other elected and appointed officials for an October Transportation Summit held at the Davis Conference Center in Layton and sponsored by the Lieutenant Governor's Office. Gov. Huntsman was on hand and presented to the gathered a well-articulated keynote address describing Utah's current transportation dilemma. He rightly stated that adequate transportation infrastructure plays a critical role in Utah's economic health.
Based on the governor's comments and supplemental figures, charts and diagrams provided to us at the event, the magnitude of our shared problem created a somber atmosphere that could literally be felt in the air. I recall one chart in particular that showed projections related to both vehicle miles traveled and population far outpacing highway capacity. Another diagram showed most of our major corridors at failure (severely congested) by 2015. Meanwhile, we were told that the state faces billions in unmet roadway needs now and even more in the future.
After the governor's exit from the conference center, a plethora of state officials presented a cornucopia of ideas as to how short-term and long-term road needs could be met. The solution? I'll try to sum it up this way: Tax, tax, tax, tax, tax, bond, tax, bond . . . You get the idea. In fact, this strategy may be best compared to or illustrated by a recent BYU football game wherein the Cougars lost by a score of 51 to 50 — all offense and little defense.
Please understand that I applaud and respect the hours that planning experts, transportation officials and chamber representatives spent on this issue. However, it is absolutely essential as we begin a quest for this fiscal Holy Grail, that we shed ourselves of denial and be perfectly honest to ourselves. Given the figures and statistics provided, it should be obvious to all that we are not going to spend ourselves out of this problem. There is simply not enough money out there. Try to extract it anyway and we may end up causing irreparable damage to our economy. No, any effective strategy will require offense and defense.
As I sat there in the conference center and surveyed the crowd in attendance, it dawned on me that the folks who needed to be at this event and who absolutely needed to be part of formulating a transportation solution were absent. The people to whom I am referring are the same individuals who put many of us on the roads to begin with . . . employers. Again, let's be honest. Most of the day's peak traffic load is composed of individuals who are going to or coming home from doing someone else's bidding.
Employers, especially large ones, can contribute to a long-term transportation solution by helping us play defense. Since we do not have the means to outbuild transportation demand, employers can assist in our cause by taking employees off the road. After all, removing commuters from roadways is just as valuable a contribution as building new lane miles. Meanwhile, the state, like a coaching staff, can supply large employers with the incentives, equipment and other resources necessary to find and/or implement innovative technological, staffing and scheduling solutions. The incentives and resources needed to accomplish a defensive strategy could be provided via grants and other private/public sector partnerships; and I dare say that such could be done at a fraction of what it would cost to lay more asphalt.
I do not deny that all of us need to pay more to fund our growing transportation needs. However, a singular offensive strategy void of a defensive game plan is not only unfair to the people of Utah, it is destined to fail. I respectfully urge the governor to work with the Legislature, transportation officials and employers to develop a well-rounded, comprehensive transportation strategy.
Rick Davis is the city manager for West Point in Davis County.