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Op-ed: We’re working to build Utahns’ paths to prosperity

By Michael Allegra, Carlos Braceras and Andrew Gruber

First Published May 09 2014 03:44 pm • Last Updated May 09 2014 03:46 pm

America is built on the ideal that a person has the chance to be successful, regardless of his or her circumstances. There are few places in our country where a person has a better chance of building a stronger economic future than right here. A recent study placed Salt Lake near the top of the list for upward mobility, fifth out of the 50 largest U.S. cities.

What makes the Wasatch Front a place of economic opportunity? Along with factors like good schools, stable families and high levels of community involvement — all of which Utah has — the study found that it is essential for workers to be able to easily and inexpensively get to their jobs.

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Transportation costs and options are a major factor in household economics. It may seem obvious, but if someone has to spend a lot or travel for hours each day to get to a low-paying job, it’s pretty hard to get ahead. Conversely, if people have options to conveniently and affordably access multiple job opportunities it is more likely that they will be successful.

Fortunately, the Wasatch Front is known as an area with quality transportation options. FrontRunner, TRAX and buses, a strong road network with modern freeways, even the new GREENBike bike share program in downtown Salt Lake City, provide transportation flexibility to Wasatch Front residents and help employees get to work efficiently. In fact, recently the Wasatch Front was ranked as having the best transit system in the nation for connecting people to the workplace.

Of course, none of this happened by accident. Thanks to the efforts of state and local elected officials, as well as the work that has been done by UDOT, UTA, the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) and other planning organizations, our state has been preparing for increased population and is working to stay ahead of the curve. Rather than wait for traffic congestion to overtake us, Utah planned ahead and built infrastructure before the need was desperate.

While commuters in the most congested U.S. cities lose more than 60 hours a year sitting in traffic, the time lost in Salt Lake is less than half that.

By establishing a vision for healthy growth and implementing integrated, long-term transportation plans, Utah has been able to create communities where it is easy to commute to work, because our roads and transit move people efficiently and because our jobs are generally convenient to where people live. Long-term regional planning also allows individual counties, cities and towns to plan for future growth with transportation and economic outcomes in mind.

The strong transportation system we enjoy depends on agencies working together to plan and build a world-class transportation system, joined by state and local leaders who are willing to fund forward-thinking transportation solutions, supported by citizens who understand the importance of transportation investments. We are fortunate to have all three elements right here in Utah. And we continue to enjoy the economic opportunities such relationships produce.

As leaders in the transportation sector, we commit to the public to continue to leverage our agencies’ efforts to responsibly plan, build and maintain a system that supports a strong economic future for Utah families and for our community as a whole. We will seek and rely upon input from Utah residents to help us make the best choices in accomplishing that goal. You can help by communicating with your state and local elected officials, attending transportation meetings held by our agencies, and familiarizing yourself with transportation and growth plans in your area. Working together, we will make Utah a place of unparalleled opportunity.

Michael Allegra is Utah Transit Authority general manager. Carlos Braceras is Utah Department of Transportation executive director. Andrew Gruber is Wasatch Front Regional Council executive director.


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