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Utah lawmakers to consider $1 billion transportation bond

Posted at 2:04 PM, Dec 25, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature could consider a billion dollar transportation bond to fund a number of massive projects over the next five years.

Those could include ways to speed up Frontrunner trains, expand bus service across the Wasatch Front and accelerate road projects statewide.

"What should we do with transportation funding now? Not just transportation, but transit as well," Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said in an interview with FOX 13.

Sen. Harper, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he would like to see "double-tracking" Frontrunner, which would speed up the trains by adding additional tracks for Utah Transit Authority to use. There is also talk of more "bus rapid transit" lines and improvements to I-15 in Washington County, U.S. 6 and U.S. 40, as well as converting Bangerter Highway into a full-fledged freeway.

"We've got still $10 to $11 billion in unmet transportation and transit needs around the state," Sen. Harper said. "Responsibly, we're probably way, way under that."

Sen. Harper said bonding rates are under 2%, which is a relative bargain for taxpayers. The legislature is contemplating a $1 billion to $1.6 billion bond to pay for projects over the next five to six years that "hit the core issues that need to be funded."

The legislature has had discussion about high-speed commuter rail across the state, but it's a very expensive project that would take years to develop. Sen. Harper said it would be "in the billions of dollars" to create a line from Salt Lake to St. George to get the right of way, build infrastructure, etc.

"We're just in the beginning steps of that," he said. "But the cost of that is really the stumbling block."

Instead, lawmakers plan to focus on transit development around Point of the Mountain (where the old prison is), as well as expanding existing Trax and bus lines across the Wasatch Front.

Sen. Harper said he anticipated bills that move away from the traditional tax on gasoline to utilize a "road usage charge" as people buy more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles. The gas tax is used to pay for road repairs and expansions.