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Todd Jensen: Among Utah’s challenges, a golden opportunity to emerge stronger

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction between 12300 South and Bangerter Highway exits on I-15, April 12, 2017.

As we navigate these unprecedented times, thinking about the future can bring much-needed comfort. We might envision the next trip we’ll take, the next time we’ll attend a concert or sporting event, the next time our families and loved ones gather together in the same place. The future is full of promise, even under these challenging circumstances.
Fortunately, Utah understands challenges. Together, we can emerge stronger and more connected. Thinking past tomorrow is more than simple comfort. It is a way to ensure a brighter, more connected future.
Now is the time to envision our world as it might be. We can imagine remaking our communities with public works projects that improve lives, reduce carbon emissions and create high-paying, sustainable jobs. In the midst of uncertain times, Utah finds itself with a golden opportunity.
As we prosper, connections among our communities will be more important than ever. Imagine a future built on transportation systems that connect communities, create jobs and drive economic prosperity for everyone. Such an opportunity exists right now along the Wasatch Front. We can ensure that the Wasatch Front meets our current and future needs and there is no better time to start than today.
More people are seeing Utah as we have always seen it – as a land of opportunity. Because of this, our state’s population is set to double by 2060, with the bulk of our growth to occur north and south of Salt Lake County and west of I-15.
In the past, we have used the bonding of transportation projects to successfully stimulate our economy such as we did after the market challenges in 2008. We have the opportunity to again stimulate our economy with an infrastructure stimulus package. Upgrading our transportation infrastructure not only makes our communities safer, more sustainable and livable, it can jumpstart our economy. Such a package can put Utahns back to work.
Recently, the Economic Response Task Force recommended a bonding program of up to $2 billion to ensure the state’s long-term growth. This program could jump start projects to enhance Utah’s mobility and economy. This is our opportunity to invest in a well-maintained and high-functioning multi-modal transportation system, one that creates better housing, better jobs, better air quality and a robust economy for all Utahns.

The Brookings Institute emphatically agrees: “infrastructure jobs appear in every region across the country, teach in-demand skills, pay higher wages, and have lower educational barriers to entry. These are the types of career pathways vital to supporting inclusive economic growth during a recession and beyond.”
The President’s Council of Economic Advisors estimates that in one year, 13,000 jobs will be supported for every $1 billion in Federal highway and transit investment.
Why now? As A. Scott Anderson, CEO and president of Zions Bank, explained, “With the state able to borrow money at under 2% interest, and with construction inflation currently running about 7% a year, large amounts of money can be saved by building now rather than later.”
Let’s do more than imagine our future. Let’s build it. While borrowing for public and private sectors is streamlined, we need our greatest architects and engineers to bring our post-pandemic infrastructure to life.
Projects such as I-15 improvements in Davis and Weber counties, the South Mountain View Corridor and multi-modal projects being considered for the Silicon Slopes redevelopment areas could be funded and fast-tracked. Just these few important projects could stimulate our state’s economy for years to come. Much like Utah did in 2008, we will work our way out of a recession.
After the recovery, Utah will be stronger than ever. Thanks to our unprecedented growth, our leaders’ fiscal conservatism and a $5.4 billion rainy day fund, Utah is in a better economic recovery position than 48 other states. But we must continue to imagine and invest in our future. We must restart the growth. An infrastructure stimulus package isn’t just an investment in transportation. It’s an investment in all of us.

Todd Jensen

Todd Jensen, S.E., is a project director in the Salt Lake City office of HNTB, an engineering and design firm.
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