April 5th Column

Oregon should follow Utah’s lead on transportation funding

This guest column was written by Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, and Chris Hagerbaumer, deputy director of Oregon Environmental Council
Apr 5, 2016, 2:34pm PDT Updated Apr 5, 2016, 2:59pm PDT

Oregonians may be surprised to learn that Utah, one of the most fiscally conservative states in the nation, has chosen to invest heavily in transportation, including financing one of the best public transit systems in the country. There are three reasons Utahns made this choice.

First, Utah’s business community recognized that a prosperous future requires investment in reliable, multimodal transportation infrastructure. Just as clogged arteries in a human body can cause heart attacks, congested transportation systems can bring the economy to a standstill. Investing in transportation unclogs transportation’s arteries and helps our economy function efficiently.

Utah’s business leaders also recognized that investing in transportation reduces costs for business, government and individuals. It’s far more expensive to build new roads than it is to maintain the ones we have. Moreover, vehicles cost more to operate when potholes and congestion rule the roads. It’s also more expensive to rely on roads alone to move people and goods: a diversified transportation system that allows people to get around without a car frees up road space for freight movement. A multimodal transportation system reduces transportation costs and provides access to important destinations like jobs, schools and grocery stores for people who can’t drive or can’t afford to drive.

Second, Utah unified around the goal of a better, safer, more sustainable transportation system. Utahns representing the business community, state and local government, anti-poverty and environmental advocacy groups, and more came together as a community to solve Utah’s transportation problems with multimodal solutions. Rather than arguing about roads versus transit, they said, “More of both please.”

Third, Utah’s diversified transportation coalition explained how public dollars would be spent, advocating for the Utah Unified Transportation Plan. This 30-year plan for improving state and local transportation facilities and addressing the needs of a growing population was developed with substantial citizen input and will generate nearly 183,000 jobs and contribute nearly $184 billion to Utah’s gross domestic product by 2040.

Oregon faces the same challenges that Utah did: hampered economic growth and a diminished quality of life due to deteriorating roads, increased maintenance costs, too much pollution from vehicles and gaps in transit service, bicycle paths and sidewalks.

Oregonians can come together to fund transportation just as Utahns did.

The Oregon Transportation Forum, representing a broad array of interests — including cities and counties, vehicle associations and advocates for transit, bicycling and walking — is convening now.

The forum is developing a solution that will make the case for investing in a transportation future with less congestion, lower vehicle operating costs, more reliable and less expensive ways of getting from here to there and improved safety and air quality.

If we act in the spirit of wise stewardship for which Oregon is known, a healthier and more prosperous future awaits. Together, Oregon can move our state forward like Utah has done.

Editor’s note: Lane Beattie will be speaking at an Oregon Environmental Council business forum on April 7 in Portland.

This guest column was written by Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, and Chris Hagerbaumer, deputy director of Oregon Environmental Council

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