Commentary: Wasatch Choice 2050 is a blueprint for how Utah will grow

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The intersection of I-215 and Redwood road is one of the projects that UDOT has identified as one of the 10 big construction projects for 2018. Monday, April 2, 2018.

You’ve likely heard that Utah is growing. What you may not have heard is how much and how fast.

According to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, we will add 1.5 million people to the Wasatch Front by 2050. That’s 45,000 people each year, or roughly the equivalent of adding a Draper- or Bountiful-sized city to our region annually!

That growth creates many opportunities, but it also brings challenges.

• Visitation to our canyons and parks has doubled over the last 10 years, causing crowding in many of our outdoor spaces.

• For the first time in decades we have more households than housing. This dynamic has pushed home prices to grow by 7 percent each year, outpacing income growth. Imagine housing prices if this trend continues.

• If we stay on our current path, we expect the average Utahn to spend almost 45 minutes more in their vehicle every day by 2050.

Fortunately, in Utah we don’t wait to see what might happen in the future. In the face of challenges, we look ahead, make a plan and move forward. This approach has served us well, creating the enviable quality of life we already enjoy.

Following this pattern, the Wasatch Front Regional Council — joined by our many partners — is nearing completion of Wasatch Choice 2050, a blueprint to shape growth in our region. This vision considers how future transportation investments, development patterns and economic opportunities contribute to enhanced quality of life into the future.

To create this vision, WFRC worked with communities and partner agencies over the last two years to identify what is most important to Utahns. Together we’ve analyzed different possible versions of the future and created a draft vision built on four key strategies that respond to those priorities:

1. Provide Transportation Choices. It is critical we create a transportation system that supports all modes of travel, including roads, transit and ways for people to safely bike and walk, which leads to better air quality and healthier communities. Past investments in transportation have kept Utah moving. Continued investment will reduce the growth in time spent traveling by half. WFRC just approved a new $4 billion Transportation Improvement Program, which allocates funding to transportation projects for the next six years; about two-thirds of that funding is for road projects, and one-third is for transit, biking and walking.

2. Support Housing Options. We must be responsive to a changing housing market. By creating more opportunities for multi-family housing in town or city centers, the draft vision preserves the character of traditional suburban and rural neighborhoods while allowing the market to meet the existing demand for a mix of housing types.

3. Preserve Open Space. Envision Utah research indicates that 80 percent of Utahns want to significantly expand outdoor recreational opportunities. The draft vision preserves 27,000 acres of open space, preserving agricultural land and allowing for the creation of new outdoor amenities like parks and trails.

4. Link Development and Transportation Decisions. The real magic happens when we consider and act on these strategies together to create a cohesive plan for future growth by linking development and transportation decisions. When we place housing centers near transportation facilities, for example, people have better access to more jobs and educational opportunities. As a result, our economy is strengthened and people have choices to live how and where they like.

Growth is here, and we have a plan. Working together, we can achieve better access to opportunities and healthier communities. The future we want tomorrow is created today. Let’s begin now to shape a future we want for ourselves and generations to come. Learn more at wfrc.org/wasatch-choice-2050.

Andrew S. Gruber | Executive Director, Wasatch Front Regional Council

Andrew S. Gruber is the executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council.