America’s transportation infrastructure is aging and in serious need of repair. According to The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), “the nation faces a $160 billion backlog just to bring public transit and road systems into a state of good repair.”
APTA and more than 240 participating organizations, including the Utah Transit Authority, are urging Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill by designating April 9 as the Stand Up 4 Transportation Day.
“The federal role is essential to the overall transportation system,” said Abby Albrecht, Director of the Utah Transportation Coalition. “There needs to a long-term, sustainable bill.”
The current transportation funding bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP 21), is set to expire May 31, 2015.
In March, Mayor Ralph Becker, representing the National League of Cities, testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the need for greater federal investment in transportation.
“Among local officials, no federal priority rates as consistently high as transportation infrastructure,” said Becker.
Demand for transit is growing. According to Mayor Becker, “transit agencies have reported growth in ridership in 12 of the last 15 quarters.”
Americans are also driving less. A 2013 report by U.S. PIRG Educational Fund and the Frontier Group, found that less than 70 percent of Americans between 16-24 have a drivers license, the lowest level in 50 years.
Funding for most large transportation projects typically requires financial support from multiple levels of government. Salt Lake’s TRAX, FrontRunner and S-Line streetcar lines were all funded through a combination of municipal, state and federal contributions.
Federal money will likely be needed as Utah seeks to implement Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan 2040, a plan developed by UTA, the Utah Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations like the Wasatch Front Regional Council. The Unified Transportation Plan, calls for the expansion of transportation infrastructure and mass transit to meet the needs of Utah’s growing population by 2040.
“If we can fulfill the plan, our system will be really workable for the entire Wasatch Front” said Abby Albrecht, the Director of Utah Transportation Coalition.
Salt Lake City is also taking steps to expand its transit options. The city is developing its first Transit Master Plan that would increase the frequency, hours of operation and number of bus routes. A key objective of the plan is to ensure that there are at least two bus routes within 1200 feet of where each city resident lives or works.
In Utah, the need for improved transit is directly connected to air quality. Over half of the C02 emissions along the Wasatch Front come from mobile sources.
The DARTE database, developed by researchers from Boston University, shows the emissions growth in various U.S. cities between 1980 and 2012. The findings show that, in urban metros, on-road vehicles accounted for 80 percent of C02 emissions growth during the 32 year period.
According to the Boston University researchers, Salt Lake City had little change in population density, yet “per-capita emissions have soared because the population is growing in the suburbs and the exurbs, but people still drive downtown.” Salt Lake had one of the highest per-capita C02 emissions, at a rate that nearly doubled between 1980 and 2012.
In March, the Utah State Legislature passed HB0362 that will allow local municipalities to fund transit through a voter approved, 0.25 percent general sales tax increase. The tax increase will help cities like Salt Lake expand its transit service. For larger projects, even with the new tax revenue, federal funds will most likely still be needed.
The lack of a long-term federal funding bill can add to uncertainty at the local level in terms of transportation project planning and can discourage private sector investment.
Along the Wasatch Front, transportation planning and expansion of mass transit are not only vital to the region’s economy, but to the region’s quality of life as less cars on the road will contribute to less C02 emissions in the air.