LAYTON — Utah leaders were praised for making wise decisions in planning for growth in the past, and must continue to do so in the future as the population rises at a recent transportation expo.
Robert Grow, founder and CEO of Envision Utah, addressed city, county and state leaders and the public at the 2014 Top of Utah Transportation Expo last week, telling them state officials planned well in the 1990s for the one million new residents expected in the state by 2020.
Due to that foresight, single-family lots decreased by 22 percent, meaning 300 square miles of land was not eaten up by urban sprawl, but, remained agricultural land, he said.
Another two and a half million Utahns are expected by 2050, with 95 percent of them living in urban areas, Grow told about 70 people gathered at the Weber State University Layton campus on Thursday, May 1.
With only 13,660 acres of land left in Davis County, and an equally abysmal number in Weber and Salt Lake counties, that means more careful planning, with redesigned walkable, better designed communities that residents help to plan, Grow said.
Gov. Gary Herbert has started a new planning process for that called “Your Utah, Your Future,” Grow said. That process will involve eight task forces made up of 50 people each.
Mass transit, including FrontRunner and TRAX, has already reduced the number of auto trips by 120,000 daily, helping to reduce air pollution and making traffic flow better on I-15, Grow said.
And building high density communities will help further reduce the needs for additional roads, improve air quality and conserve water, Grow said.
“One of the reasons Utahns like transit is that it’s a robust strategy,” Grow said, adding the state must deal with continuing air quality issues primarily by dealing with transportation.
All that will take money.
Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, told conference-goers that paying for that growth will be a pretty big job.
However, the state will need to come up with the funds or risk hurting the state’s economy.
To her, the most logical way to come up with funding for transportation is to raise the motor-fuel tax, now set at 24.5 cents per gallon.
“Raising the motor-fuel tax is long overdue,” she said, noting the last time the state raised it was 1997. If the tax had kept pace with inflation, it would be 14 0r 15 cents higher now, she said.