Senators gift wrapped tens of millions of borrowed dollars on Monday for a long list of local road projects.
They voted 17-10 to pass HB377, and sent it back to the House after adding a bit of spending. The House earlier voted 73-1 for it — with the lone dissenting vote coming from Speaker Becky Lockhart.
While the Utah Transportation Commission normally is charged with deciding how to prioritize state road projects for available highway funds, HB377 circumvents that process for $41.45 million worth of specific projects with money coming from previously authorized bonding.
That brought some attacks similar to an earlier one from Lockhart when she said, “I am personally getting a little tired of this continually directing the Transportation Commission what to do, as opposed to leaving it up to them.”
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said, “All of this ought to go to the state Transportation Commission” for prioritization. He warned that the bill would take the state to 79 percent of its bonding capacity, and leave little room to handle emergencies if something like an earthquake hit.
“It’s just not prudent planning,” he said.
But Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, Senate sponsor of the bill, said it would help provide a “soft landing” for the construction industry after completion of several large projects — such as rebuilding I-15 in Utah County, and the finishing the Mountain View Corridor — has the Utah Department of Transportation planning far fewer projects the coming season than in recent years.
Sixty-two percent of the money added for specifically named projects will go to cities or local governments represented by just three lobbyists: former House Speaker Greg Curtis, Rob Jolley and David Stewart.
Earmarks also include a variety of road projects in Bluffdale, Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Herriman, Midvale, Murray, Ogden, Sandy, South Jordan, Taylorsville, Tooele, West Jordan and West Valley City.
The bill also adds other earmarks ranging from $3 million for a study on how to improve transportation in the Uinta Basin — which may be limiting oil production there — to $2.9 million for Utah Transit Authority studies, including one on mountain transportation, and $3 million to the state Office of Tourism for transportation projects associated with annual tourism events.
It also adds $135 for projects to be prioritized by the Transportation Commission.
After amendments, the bill also gives Salt Lake County control over $2 of a county-option $5 fee that it added to state car registration fees. House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, sponsor of the bill, said most state highway projects originally intended when that fee was imposed have been completed, so the bill gives the county more control of the fee in the future.