It appears that Carlos Braceras looked at his new business cards and noticed that his title is now executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation.
Not the Utah Department of Highways. Or the Utah Department of Sprawl, Smog and Concrete. But transportation, the job of getting people and things from one place to another in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.
It is not the fault of Braceras — or of his predecessor, the recently retired John Njord — that for so long UDOT seems to have been interested only in building longer, wider and more expensive highways. That has long been the primary concern of transportation departments in all parts of the country and all levels of government.
But hope for a better future for Utah peeked out in the recent Salt Lake Tribune article in which Braceras laid out his point of view. He said fully understands why UDOT might not have the best of reputations among those who understand that no state, no metropolitan area, can just pave its way to prosperity. That is particularly true of an area poised to rapidly increase in population over the next several years and already suffering serious air-quality woes.
Braceras served as Njord’s right-hand man at UDOT for the last 12 years. So he is familiar with the most important decision-making factor in any bureaucracy in the public sector or the private: The Way We’ve Always Done It. But he has expressed some refreshing thoughts on how things might be done from now on.
He sees a need for the agency, which routinely spends billions of taxpayer dollars, to be more transparent in its planning and spending.
Failure to adhere to that principle was clearly part of the scandal that did much damage, not only to UDOT, but also to the reputation of Gov. Gary Herbert. That was the case of paying $13 million to a narrowly edged-out bidder for the $1.1 billion contract to rebuild I-15 in Utah County. For the right to use some of the unsuccessful bidder’s work, says UDOT. As hush money, the suspicious would say, to a company that narrowly lost out to a competitor that had just donated $82,500 to Herbert’s campaign fund.
More important in the long run, though, is the understanding that real transportation includes more than cars on concrete. It includes bicycles, walking and mass transit, all of which the new boss pledges to incorporate more fully, and from the beginning, in all its future blueprints.
And those are goals that require more active partnerships with other governments, agencies and interest groups.
In the short run, the best way for Braceras to prove that a new day has dawned at UDOT would be to totally rethink, if not cancel outright, the West Davis Corridor freeway project.
That boondoggle has already drawn opposition not just from landowners whose homes are threatened but also from the U.S. Interior Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Farmington and others worried about the highway’s threat to Great Salt Lake wetlands and its promise of encouraging more pollution and sprawl.
If a new day really has dawned at UDOT, the West Davis project will be the first to go.
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