Utah business groups agree the proposed expansion of Salt Lake City’s transit system would benefit the business community and the city should continue to work with the Utah Transit Authority, rather than create its own transit agency, to develop such plans.
The Salt Lake Chamber argues that if long-term improvements are implemented statewide by 2040, taxpayers will save more in congestion, safety, and environmental costs than the improvements will cost.
Meanwhile, the Utah Taxpayers Association says improvements to the Salt Lake system must be self-sufficient, or funded by their users, before bonds should be issued for the work.
Michael Parker, vice president of public policy for the Salt Lake Chamber, said the chamber is an “engaged stakeholder,” along with its sister organization, the Downtown Alliance, in the development of the city’s transit master plan.
“We appreciate the capital city taking a proactive approach because our state has substantial growth and limited resources,” Parker said. “This type of long-term planning and disciplined investment are required to meet future infrastructure needs.”
Parker said the creation and maintenance of critical transportation infrastructure is a “core responsibility of government.”
“Utah’s elected and appointed officials exhibit economic leadership through their continued commitment to transportation infrastructure investment,” he said. “We support continued investment in our state’s multimodal transportation network to address capacity expansion, maintenance and operations of Utah’s significant transportation assets.”
That investment includes many of the recommendations within the existing draft of Salt Lake City’s transit master plan, Parker said.
“We also support efforts to enhance and increase transit service throughout the state to ensure employees have public transportation options, to address future growth and to improve our air quality,” he said. “This includes enhanced early-morning, late-night, weekend and holiday service.”
'Frequent transit network'
The city’s draft master plan proposes a “frequent transit network” that would operate on the most rapid and reliable arterial and priority streets, improve travel time to compete with vehicle travel, and provide trains and buses every 15 minutes or less from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and every 30 minutes or less on Sundays and evenings.
Billy Hesterman, vice president of the taxpayers association, said the proposed improvements “have the potential” to benefit the business community.
“The geography of our area is such that we probably do need to look at mass transit operations,” Hesterman said. “We need conversations about how to move people from their houses to their businesses, from their businesses and houses to where they play and have fun. It should be done by showing the benefits versus the costs to taxpayers.”
Before issuing bonds, developers of the proposed plan must look closely at how users will be involved in the process, he said.
“Users would need to have the burden placed on them (to fund the project),” Hesterman said. “We need analysis of how those benefiting from it are paying for it. Is that feasible? Would it break the budget for Salt Lake City?
“We want to make sure it’s done in an efficient way. We would like to see more data to show there is a benefit and it will not just send empty trains and buses around the city.”
Hesterman and Parker agreed that the city should continue to work with the UTA, rather than launch its own transit agency, as some city officials have proposed, to develop the plan.
“That’s not the best option for the city,” Hesterman said. “It would be redundant for the city to create its own agency.”
In 2012, the 43-member Utah Transportation Coalition presented a study of the state’s long-term Unified Transportation Plan showing that fully funding the plan by 2040 would increase household income by $104 billion and business output by $347 billion, saving the private sector $38.5 million, Parker said.
“This means that for every $1 of public outlays on expanding the transportation system in this scenario, Utah households and businesses will have saved $1.06 by 2040 in congestion, safety, and environmental costs,” he said.
As for Salt Lake City, the more options available to bring employees to work, the better the transit system serves the business community, said Nick Como, spokesman for the Downtown Alliance, which represents the city’s central business district.
“We are overwhelmingly supportive of transit and transit operations,” Como said. “We are really interested in a downtown circulator, a bus, trolley, streetcar – any of those – some sort of circulator doing constant loops to help people get around.”
Howard Headless, president of the Utah Bankers Association, and Stephanie Wright, CEO of the Murray Area Chamber, declined to comment on the proposed improvements.
Representatives of the Utah Manufacturers Association, the Salt Lake chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Davis Chamber of Commerce and the Utah Restaurant Association could not be reached for comment.