Utah taxpayers may need to spend billions of dollars to control rapid growth around Point of Mountain, a study suggests

A report says expensive improvements to transit, highways — and encouraging high-density housing — may be needed to prevent congestion and pollution, and to attract marquee businesses.<br>

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) A new report says that rapid growth expected after the state prison closes in Draper could necessitate billions of dollars worth of improvements to help prevent congestion and pollution, and attract quality businesses.

New research says officials may be wise to spend billions in coming decades for improvements to control rapid growth expected around Point of the Mountain after the state prison closes — growth that could help make the area an economic powerhouse.

Spending to provide more highways, transit and a university research center there could bring higher-paying jobs, reduce congestion and pollution, and promote a high quality of life — which may not otherwise be possible, it says.

“The question is how much we should spend,” Rep. Lowry Snow, chairman of the Point of the Mountain Development Commission, told The Salt lake Tribune on Tuesday. The Santa Clara Republican’s comment came at the Capitol, where his commission heard about five Envision Utah-developed scenarios on what the area’s future could look like with different levels of spending.

The commission encourages residents to read about those scenarios at pointofthemountainfuture.org and take a survey about their preferences.

The Legislature established the commission to plan redevelopment of the prison site and a nearby area stretching from Sandy and Herriman to Lehi and Saratoga Springs.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune New houses have sprung up just north of I-15 in Lehi near the Outlets at Traverse Mountain. Utah County is growing at a rapid rate, especially Lehi.

“Rapid growth in this area is inevitable: under any scenario, the area is ‘built out’ by 2050,” according to a report the nonprofit planning contractor Envision Utah made for the commission, noting that 20,000 currently fallow acres in the area will be developed — not just the 700 acres at the prison. “The question is what the growth will look like.”

Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, told the commission that available land at Point of the Mountain could be the epicenter of growth in Utah. And the state “will add 57,000 residents a year for the next 50 years,” she said. “It’s like adding a Taylorsville over and over again.”

Ari Bruening, chief operating officer of Envision Utah, said that at Point of the Mountain, “we have an opportunity as a state to catalyze our economic growth, increase high-paying jobs” and improve quality of life.

He also warns that doing nothing could create a mess — as shown by a scenario in which the state only completes currently planned and funded highway projects for the area.

Rick Egan | Tribune file photo Rush hour traffic on I-15 near Lehi, November 21, 2007.

By 2050, researchers say, that scenario would lead to traffic that often is at a standstill amid a crowded mishmash of developments that missed opportunities to attract world-class businesses and jobs.

Other scenarios would include reducing such problems by widening freeways, adding highways, extending TRAX from Draper to Orem (through the prison site), adding tracks for FrontRunner commuter trains to increase frequency, eliminating fares for mass transit in the area and encouraging higher-density housing that would put people nearer to new jobs in the area.

Such measures, Envision Utah predicts, could cut drive times from Point of the Mountain to Provo by 25 percent, and to Salt Lake City by 19 percent. They could lower projected monthly household transportation costs from $846 to $755, the study found, and could cut pollution from vehicles by 20 percent.

By making the area more attractive to businesses, such steps also could help increase the number of jobs there from an estimated 218,500 under the “do nothing” scenario to 286,000 in 2050.

And it could create higher-paying jobs as better companies are attracted, increasing average household income by a projected $10,000 a year.

But other scenarios would comes with higher cost.

Under the “do nothing” scenario, state, city and county governments would spend a currently planned $3.6 billion through 2050 on transportation facilities. In other scenarios, it would spend up to $11.4 billion — more than three times as much.

| Tribune File Photo A southbound UTA FrontRunner train arrives at the Draper Station on June 6, 2013.

The research also says many potential problems could be solved by encouraging higher-density housing that puts more people closer to jobs. The moves also could lower water use for outdoor irrigation by 16 percent, reduce the cost of housing and lead to more open spaces, such as parks and trails.

Snow said the commission will accept public comment in the coming months, and that it aims to adopt a preferred scenario in January. He notes, however, that the commission has no land-use authority, and it can only advise the state and local cities and counties.

The commission has planned two public workshops on the proposal. They are scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Thanksgiving Point’s Ashton Gardens Visitor Center, 3900 N. Garden Drive in Lehi, and Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, 12033 Lone Peak Parkway in Draper.