Officials from Utah’s cities all raised their hands when asked how many of them love living here. But with 2 million more residents expected by 2050, they were again asked how many worry that growth may damage their quality of life. All hands went up again.
“Growth is coming. And we have a plan,” Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council told the Utah League of Cities and Towns convention on Thursday.
He then presented highlights of a blueprint about how to handle that growth called the Wasatch Choice 2050 Vision, which was developed over the past four years by elected officials, transportation agencies, businesses and residents.
It “is not a plan that’s being imposed on people by the Wasatch Front Regional Council or anyone else,” said Millcreek Mayor Jeff Slivestrini, who is also vice chairman of that council. “Each local government has participated in this and added our two cents about what we think is likely to happen in our community or what we’re planning.”
It aims to help handle traffic congestion, reduce pollution and preserve key open space.
“It is a blueprint. It’s not a requirement,” Silvestrini said. “It’s an idea about how to solve the growth issues we have.”
Gruber added, “It is not one-size fits all,” but varies by community. One consensus is that the area cannot build enough road capacity to absorb the coming demand.
So, “We need to enhance our existing transit system and expand it in a targeted way — and provide options for people to safely and conveniently bike and walk,” he said. That includes creating more walkable neighborhoods where people may work, live and shop without commuting.
The blueprint also shows where future transportation improvements — from widening freeways to double-tracking and electrifying FrontRunner trains — are proposed.
Currently, Gruber said about 21% of residents have access within a quarter mile to “frequent and reliable” mass transit, and 43% have access to a “safe and dedicated bike lane.”
“If we implement the vision, that will grow to 36% and 79%,” he said. “That doesn’t mean everybody is taking transit, but we’re giving that choice to people to do so if it works for them.”
Also today, about 75% percent of Wasatch Front residents live in single-family, detached homes, and 25% live in multifamily housing such as townhomes, condos and apartments. The plan envisions that evolving into a 60-40 split by 2050.
“This is not government telling people how to live or what type of homes they should live in,” Gruber said. “This is about responding to the market and demographic trends and providing options for people.”
Strategic planning of higher density areas should also help preserve existing single-family home neighborhoods and open space, he said.
For example, he said the cities of Roy and Sandy are planning high density housing and retail near Frontrunner and/or TRAX stations. He said that will tend to keep that kind of development out of traditional suburban single family areas and preserve their lifestyle.
He notes the plan calls for the development of many such higher density “town centers” along TRAX, FrontRunner or other transit lines to reduce the need of residents there to have personal cars.
Gruber outlined expected benefits from the plan.
Without it, for example, he said a typical Wasatch Front resident by 2050 would be able to access 180,000 jobs in a reasonable time by driving or 38,000 by transit. With the plan, that would increase to 226,000 jobs by driving and 58,000 by transit.
Also by implementing the blueprint, officials figure it will help the Wasatch Front achieve a 59% percent reduction in key air pollutants by 2050 from current levels.
Gruber said it should also help preserve an extra 27,400 acres, about the size of Provo, of farm and open space along the Wasatch Front.
“I believe that if we implement the Wasatch Choice 2050 Vision, it’s a wonderful way for us to make sure that we have a bright future in Utah for decades to come,” Gruber said.