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UTA hears pitch for transit-oriented development

Managing growth and transportation along the Wasatch Front through transit-oriented development were among the issues under consideration by local civic leaders and UTA on Monday at the agency's board of trustees retreat in Farmington.
Managing growth and transportation along the Wasatch Front through transit-oriented development were among the issues under consideration by local civic leaders and UTA on Monday at the agency's board of trustees retreat in Farmington.
Deseret News

FARMINGTON — Managing growth and transportation along the Wasatch Front may require a fundamental shift in the way Utahns travel to and from work, school and into communities.

Civic leaders and the Utah Transit Authority's board of trustees conducted a retreat Monday in advance of UTA’s monthly board meeting June 22. The topic: Transit-oriented development as a major component in planning urban travel in northern Utah.

“People want convenience, choices for how to get around, and they want them to be walkable with less (traffic) congestion,” said Ari Bruening, chief operating officer of Envision Utah, a public-private partnership promoting growth that considers air quality, transportation options, open space preservation, housing and infrastructure.

“The also want other ways to get around besides the car," he said. "They want to be able to ride the train or bike or whatever."

Transit-oriented development uses mixed-use residential and commercial areas to maximize access to public transportation, which incorporates features to encourage transit ridership.

UTA currently has five active projects, including two in Salt Lake City, with others in Clearfield, Sandy and South Jordan. A dozen other projects are also under preliminary consideration for potential future development.

Envision Utah commissioned a statewide study of more than 52,000 Utahns to learn what transportation options residents would like to see developed. Bruening said more than 80 percent of respondents wanted more compact living conditions that include a greater variety of travel options with a bigger public transportation network.

“That’s a pretty strong mandate to head in that direction,” he said after presenting the data to the UTA board.

Environmental quality, infrastructure costs, proximity to transit and household transportation costs were among the top concerns expressed by respondents, he said.

Bruening said that more than half of respondents were at least somewhat willing to live near high-density, multifamily housing or mix-used commercial development in order to accommodate transit-oriented development.

Coordination of land use was also an important consideration for how the development would take place, said Andrew Gruber, executive director of Wasatch Front Regional Council, an association of governments that focuses on long-range transportation planning.

“Creating opportunities for growth to happen in urban centers is a really great strategy for addressing population growth,” he said. Coordination of population and transit growth through land use helps to make development more efficient in a way that is responsive to demographic changes in the market, he added.

“Giving people the choice the live in an area where they are close to transit so they could use it and leave the car at home if they wanted (is key),” Gruber said. “It also increases affordability if you look at combined housing and transportation costs for people who can live in an area where they can walk or bike or use transit (by reducing) overall household costs.”

Gruber said coordination between the public and private sectors is critical to the success of transit-oriented development projects.

“Everybody has to work together to help local communities figure out what is best for them at their neighborhood level in a way that has benefits to the overall region,” he said.

Housing, economic development and transportation should be considered holistically, he said, because they are each impacted by each other.

Developing transportation within already established urban centers would save money in infrastructure costs, by limiting the need for new expenditures, he said, noting there are many ways to reach the goal of creating vibrant transit-oriented communities.

“There is no one right way to develop,” Gruber said. “If we can provide a range of choices across the region, it benefits everybody.”

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