Much of the recent public discourse has rightly focused on reducing government spending. We all recognize that we will have to use our limited public funds more efficiently and effectively. Wasatch Front residents are fortunate to already have a plan the Wasatch Choice for 2040 that will save more than $5 billion while accommodating the near doubling of our region's population and preserving our great quality of life.
Developed by thousands of Utahns in a grassroots process, the plan contemplates growing town centers tied together by a modern transportation network. In the centers, residents will have more housing options close to transit stations, jobs, retail and commercial opportunities.
This is not government telling people how to live. It's market-driven. People will continue to decide where they want to live just as they do today.
The Wasatch Choice for 2040 responds to a remarkable confluence of demographic trends. The nation's largest demographic group, the baby boomers, starts turning 65 this year. And the second-largest group, the millennials, start to graduate from college in 2012. Research by the University of Utah, the National Homebuilders Association, the National Association of Realtors and many others has shown that these groups have a preference in greater numbers than before to live in mixed-use, walkable communities.
In other words, over the next 30 years, demographers expect a shift in the percentage of the population that chooses to live in transit-accessible town centers. The Wasatch Choice plan merely reflects those consumer preferences in a way that maximizes the value of the scarce dollars we have for infrastructure investment.
If our region grows in a way that is consistent with the plan, we'll save billions in costs for transportation, water, sewers and other utilities that we do not have to build. We'll reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, use less water and energy, increase productivity, protect critical lands, and, importantly, preserve the character of existing neighborhoods. If we can accommodate the huge population growth by providing housing and transportation options in town centers, there will be less pressure to change suburban neighborhoods.
How do we achieve the Wasatch Choice for 2040? We rethink our development patterns and strategies, remove regulatory barriers that discourage development in town centers, and expand housing and transportation choices in walkable communities while still accommodating those who wish to live in suburban single-family homes and neighborhoods.
We also invest in infrastructure, especially transportation. As a job creator, infrastructure has a proven track record of fostering economic development, which, in turn, pays for other priorities such as education. Utah has a competitive advantage, largely because of the transportation investments we've already made. Now is the time to capitalize on that competitive advantage by putting in motion the next generation of infrastructure investments.
Utah is poised for economic recovery. Newsweek recently said that the Salt Lake area is one of the 10 cities best suited for economic recovery, in part due to short commutes and affordable housing. Fortune magazine named Salt Lake one of 15 "best new cities for business" in the world, citing our vision for the future as one of the key reasons.
But ultimately, to realize the Wasatch Choice for 2040 vision, we need to work together, as one region, as one state, because how we grow affects all of us, our children and our grandchildren.
Andrew Gruber is executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council; Andrew Jackson is executive director, Mountainland Association of Governments; and Alan Matheson is executive director, Envision Utah.