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Senate quickly OKs plan to borrow $1 billion for Utah highway projects

First Published      Last Updated Mar 07 2017 01:39 pm


Government » Among projects that may come faster are several I-15 improvements along the Wasatch Front.

A proposal to borrow $1 billion through bonds to accelerate some needed highway projects sped through the Senate on Monday.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 6-0 to endorse SB277, and the full Senate followed suit in a unanimous vote. The bill now heads to the House.

Its sponsor, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said the Utah Transportation Commission would chose which projects to speed up from its lists of already-approved work, and would likely target those needed the most or where savings would be the greatest.

Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, said many projects already high on such lists include improving various sections of Interstate 15 along the Wasatch Front. "It carries the most traffic. It is where we see the most congestion," he said.




That includes a project, often called "the gap," to widen and improve I-15 in Utah County between Lehi Main Street (where a major rebuilding of I-15 terminated a few years ago) to SR-92 at Thanksgiving Point. Braceras said bonding could speed it up by two years, with construction possibly beginning next spring.

Another in Davis County would extend express lanes from Hill Field Road in Layton to Interstate 84. Braceras said bonding could speed that project by three years.

Some Salt Lake County projects could include adding a southbound lane on I-15 from SR-201 (near 2100 South) to 106th South or 123rd South. UDOT also is planning to reconfigure the south I-215 interchange with I-15, including widening some bridges.

Braceras notes UDOT also hopes to solve a serious congestion problem on northbound I-215 from about 90th South to I-215. Many drivers try to move right to exit onto I-215, while at the same time many cars just entering the freeway try to merge left — causing "traffic weaving."

"That backs up big time," Braceras said, so UDOT is looking at using bridges to separate the traffic.

Harper said the state could save tens of millions of dollars on a variety of projects by avoiding inflation on project prices while taking advantage of currently low bond rates — and save drivers and businesses millions more lost to congestion over that time.

The $1 billion in bonding would come over four years as needed, and would have a 15-year payback period. The bill requires that the state not exceed 50 percent of its constitutional debt limit for the bonds.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said because of other bonds now being paid off, the state could remain under 40 percent of its bond limit — even with bonds coming to help build a new state prison.

The highway bonding has been promoted in an unusual way. Harper and allies have said it may help raise more money for Utah schools.

"Once we do this, we know it's going to have a cascading benefit on economic development. It will allow for more jobs, more businesses," Harper said earlier, contending that in turn will raise more taxes to help schools.

That comes as the Our Schools Now initiative is proposing to put on the ballot a $750 million a year income tax increase for education.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Gary Herbert have opposed the ballot initiative, saying higher tax rates may chase away companies and hurt the economy.

 

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