Woods Cross • Dwight D. Eisenhower put a stamp on his presidential legacy when he signed legislation to fund the U.S. Interstate Highway System in 1956.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director Carlos Braceras on Friday morning announced a project they think is nearly as bold — and with a lot less asphalt.
The Cox administration wants to create a statewide trail system that connects every existing trail in the Beehive State. Theoretically, someone on foot, bicycle or other non-automotive vehicles could travel from Bear Lake to St. George using primarily this new system.
“This is our interstate highway system,” Cox said. “... This is our intrastate trail system. This bold idea that we, at some point in the future, will be able to get from anywhere in Utah to anywhere else without having to get on a roadway to accomplish that and to do so safely and ... in a way that brings people together.”
But here’s the rub: The statewide system as it stands is in its infancy. Details are still being worked out, Cox said.
Braceras, when asked if there was an estimated cost for the project, said there wasn’t yet one. But he did offer insight into the project’s magnitude.
“This is not a cheap project,” Braceras said. “This is long term — we’re going to work towards this. We may not be done in our lifetimes because I believe as we start making these connections, it’s going to grow.”
While details were sparse, Cox and Braceras did address issues that may matter to Utahs. Chief among those is the administration does not want to use eminent domain to connect existing trails.
“We are going to have to work through those difficult situations to see if we can find willing sellers,” Braceras said. “Or perhaps the trail is going to have to meander around a certain area to be able to make those connections.”
Cox said financing would likely be one of the most significant hurdles for the project moving forward. He said he wants to tap into any resources that may be available, including federal infrastructure money.
Braceras said next steps involve increased communication of the administration’s “vision” and “working closely with the Legislature.”
“We’re working our way into the legislative session, and these are policy choices that our legislators need to make,” Braceras said.
Of note, the project will attempt to make the system equitable to all communities, regardless of income level and physical abilities, officials said.
“These trails can’t just be accessible to people on the east side or people in wealthier neighborhoods,” Cox said. “We know that active transportation is something that everyone in the state wants. So we need to make sure that there is physical access. We also need to make sure that the trails are built in such a way that people of all abilities can get on them.”
Braceras said the proposed statewide system will benefit those Utahns who are either unable or choose not to drive. And even if the project isn’t completed until decades from now, the administration believes a statewide trail system can become one of Utah’s biggest highlights.
“Just as the interstate connected our cities and our states together and really made this country what it is today from an economic quality of life perspective — where you could go wherever you wanted to go, whenever you wanted to go — I believe a statewide trail system will do the same to the state of Utah,” Braceras said. “It will prove a legacy for all citizens and visitors to the state of Utah for so many years.”