Utah County doesn’t deserve to prosper at Salt Lake’s expense

By By Andy Thompson

By Andy Thompson

On the ballot for Utah County in the upcoming election will be a sales tax increase for commuter rail, after the measure was passed unanimously by Utah County Commissioners Larry Ellertson, Jerry Grover and Steve White. Utah Transit Authority (UTA) spokesman Justin Jones called the decision “courageous.” I’d say it’s about time. But, those from down south could always use a little coaxing when it comes to that frightening concept of change, so, cheers Utah County-you’re lucky to have a real set of visionaries leading the pack.Unfortunately, it appears the laggards may be too late. Real Salt Lake’s agreement for a new stadium in Sandy may divert Salt Lake County funds from public transit to the construction of a soccer stadium, jeopardizing the 22 miles of track needed to link Utah County to Salt Lake Valley. “We need to come together with Salt Lake County and UTA and do what’s good for the state,” said Rep. Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo. Of course, what’s good for Utah County is good for the state. It appears Utah County had better do something quickly. With construction on the county’s portion of I-15 slated to begin around 2011, commuters will be in desperate need of alternatives to an already-congested route. The earliest date that commuter rail would be completed is 2010, said Chad Eccles, transit planner for Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG), which helps coordinate public transportation for Utah County. A temporary line in Salt Lake County could be ready by 2011, UTA’s Jones said.These timetables are contingent upon the backroom dealings of state legislators, municipalities and government entities-such as UTA and MAG-to find the necessary funding.”We’re trying to work through how to put in place a proposal (allowing commuter rail),” said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. “There are lots of moving parts, and we’re coming together.”Funny what a deadline can do for progress.Utah County leaders never displayed much interest in public transportation before. In 2005, Bramble and his delegation helped defeat Senate Bill 183 that would have financed a Salt Lake County rail line to the Point of the Mountain. The bill also called for Utah County’s cooperation with UTA in building its own rail. Bramble argued that UTA’s provisions were “onerous and something that Utah County could not agree to.” “UTA had worked hard with the mayors (of Utah County in reaching a compromise),” said Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, who sponsored the bill. “The Utah County delegation (of state legislators) felt like they were left with a disproportionate amount of debt. We did not feel that way.””Utah County had the opportunity. If they wanted to, they could have done it,” said Greg Scott, transit planner for the Wasatch Front Regional Council, which coordinates public transportation for Davis, Weber, Salt Lake, Tooele and Morgan counties. “Several years ago, we did a regional assessment of transit that included Utah County, and the result of the study was that commuter rail was recommended. We pursued it; they did not.”Now that Utah County has seen the light-“two years ago we weren’t assured that the timing was right and that this money wouldn’t just go into a black hole,” Lockhart said-it is Salt Lake County that may suffer from its southern neighbors’ gaffe. Before allotting funds for RSL-two weeks after the Utah County decision-Salt Lake County planned to build four additional TRAX lines going to Draper, West Valley, the airport and South Jordan, as well as the rail needed to connect with Utah County. Now, because of the lack of funds, it has been proposed that one of the TRAX projects be put on the backburner.Salt Lake County (along with Weber and Davis counties) passed an increased sales tax for public rail in 2000, and it is only fair that its communities reap the benefits of such measures.Opponents argue that Salt Lake County will benefit from Utah County commuters’ increasing tax revenues and alleviating traffic. This all hinges on the chance that those from Utah County would leave their sheltered utopia for anything more than work and a Ute/Cougar game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Besides, what could be more beneficial than the misery of so many BYU faithfuls?Utah County: Wait your turn and be patient; we all know you’re good at following. Let those who made the sacrifice and had the forethought for public transit six years ago relish in the fruits of their labor. In the meantime, enjoy the paragliders at The Point, the soon-to-be rattle of jackhammers and the carbon dioxide mist, all from the spacious setting of your 6-ton SVU. Commuter rail will get to you in, say, 20, 30 years. Possibly just in time to see an RSL playoff run.