ST. GEORGE – Civic officials and others are asking for more legislative funding for transportation infrastructure maintenance and improvement. To aid in their efforts, a statewide campaign was launched earlier this week, focused on educating the public on the need and value of increased transportation investment. The campaign kicked off in St. George Tuesday, and those involved expressed hope that the public push will influence state lawmakers in favor of finding ways to increase funding during the 2015 legislative session.
“The goal of this is to remind all of us that whether we use transportation or not, we all benefit,” Abby Albrecht, of the Utah Transportation Coalition, said.
People are benefited by the transportation system every day, Albrecht said, from the person who receives deliveries at home shipped via the roadways to people using sidewalks to walk to school or work.
“We all benefit from a well-maintained and functional transportation system,” Albrecht said.
The Utah Transportation Coalition is part of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce and has joined with civic officials across Utah for the campaign. The group held a news conference at Confluence Park in St. George Tuesday, where St. George Mayor Jon Pike and others expressed that a well-maintained transportation network is vital to the economy of the city, county and state.
“We want our businesses and residents to benefit from a transportation system that delivers a strong economy and presents many job opportunities,” Pike said.
Washington County and Utah are growing, Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said. The population is expected to double by 2050, and the state needs to make sure its transportation networks are ready for it.
“This includes a need for us to preserve our infrastructure,” Iverson said. “Delaying transportation investment will cost the taxpayers in the long run.”
The state’s revenue for transportation needs has come from its gas tax, which is currently 24.5 cents per gallon. The tax has been unchanged since 1997, and lawmakers haven’t been eager to approve any potential tax increases.
However, a tax increase and other possible funding sources are being looked at by the Legislature’s Interim Transportation Committee.
Albrecht said there is currently a gap in funding for transportation needs. Those needs have been identified in what she called the Unified Transportation Plan. It is a plan put together by the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Transit Authority, and several other transportation organizations throughout the state, including the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“What we need in funding is laid out in the unified plan,” Albrecht said, “and that is what we’re trying to address … We’re rolling out why there is a need.”
Major transportation projects in St. George and Washington County have included the Dixie Drive Interchange, the St. George Boulevard/Exit 8 diverging diamond interchange, the Southern Parkway, and the currently under construction Bluff Street/Red Hills Parkway Interchange.
Future transportation projects include the Bluff Street/Sunset Boulevard interchange and the possibility of a roadway connecting state Route 18 and Interstate 15.
Funding for infrastructure not only includes roadways used by motorists, but also pedestrians and cyclists, which is categorized as “active transportation.”
“We really want to focus more on active transportation and make it more a part of our thinking as we’re planning road maintenance and new roads,” Pike said.
Facilities already in place for cyclists in St. George include what Pike called “bicycle boulevards,” including 30 West, 300 East and Diagonal Street. Each street has dedicated bicycle lanes on the side of the roadway,
To help better coordinate and promote active transportation in the city, Pike said he will officially create an active transportation committee during the St. George City Council meeting Thursday. The committee will consist of people representing the business, cycling and general community, he said.
Members of the Southern Utah Bicycling Alliance were also present at the press conference to support the initiative. Paul Shanklin, president of the alliance, said Washington County is well-known for its transportation system, but he would like to see more funding for active transportation and not just roadways.
Cycling has become increasingly popular in the area in recent years and has led to collaborative efforts between the city, UDOT and cycling groups in order to create a more accommodating and safe transportation infrastructure.
There was also support for public transit, represented by a small group in favor of a route between Hurricane and Springdale.
“I think its something that’s extremely important,” Dorothy Engelman, who stood with the group, said.
Engelman said the route would benefit many people who live in that part of the county. She said she also supports the idea of a countywide public transit system.
Currently, the City of St. George provides public transit through its SunTran bus system, which primary serves needs within the city. Expanded service to Ivins is slated to begin around mid-January. Washington City officials are also considering the possibility of SunTran expansion in their city.
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