Commentary: Time to get on board and solve transportation issues in Utah County

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) One of UTA's Utah Valley Express (UVX) buses makes a stop in Orem, Tuesday Sept. 25, 2018.

Change is constant, and so is growth when it comes to Utah County. A recent report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute estimates Utah County will add over 1 million new residents by 2065 — bringing the total county population to 1.6 million, with nearly 30% of the state’s population living in the area.

As the president of Utah Valley University and the mayors of Lehi, Orem and Vineyard, we are proud to be part of Utah County’s thriving economy and grateful for the vision of our federal, state, county and city representatives who work with us to secure funding for our current and future needs.

We applaud the agencies, nonprofit groups, think tanks and committees who are diligently working to find solutions to our most urgent needs to ensure our community continues to flourish as it expands.

With rapid population growth comes a critical demand for efficient, sustainable transportation. UVU and Brigham Young University recently hosted a collaborative summit to discuss future transportation needs in Utah County. The event brought together local government leaders and transportation officials to discuss key issues and brainstorm solutions to current and future transportation challenges.

Our summit included a conversation about how international cities are planning, designing and funding transportation infrastructure. For example, Jakarta and Singapore represent two distinct models of public transportation. Indonesia found that traffic congestion costs Jakarta $7.4 billion each year. In contrast, Singapore’s public transportation network is considered one of the most cost-effective systems. Sixty percent of Singapore residents commute using public transportation, but only 20% in Jakarta.

However, Jakarta has made significant changes to improve its transit options. The city recently won the global 2021 Sustainable Transport Award for its integrated public transportation initiatives, which included the launch of two rapid-transit systems, public minivans and new bicycle lanes. Utah County can learn from Jakarta and Singapore’s transportation achievements. We must explore innovative infrastructure solutions to keep up with the needs of our growing workforce.

Available land in Utah County is disappearing rapidly, and we must preserve necessary transportation corridors. There are urgent transportation needs around the northeast and northwest edges of Utah Lake, as well as Springville, Mapleton and Spanish Fork. East-west corridors in Lehi are struggling to keep up with traffic created by new construction in Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain and Lehi. It is critical to plan for increased bottleneck traffic congestion at the Point of the Mountain on I-15 and Redwood Road.

To combat these challenges, efficient transportation planning is currently happening in Utah County. The city of Orem, for example, was one of the original sponsors and funding organizers for the Utah Valley Express (UVX) rapid-transit line. The city has also been working with the Mountainland Association of Governments and the Utah Legislature to build an interconnected road grid system to better manage traffic flow through the city.

Working with federal and state agencies, Vineyard is investing more than $200 million into its new transit-oriented development infrastructure to create a livable community with many transportation options, including a multi-modal FrontRunner station that will connect UVU’s Vineyard and Orem campuses, walkways, bike paths and a four-lane connector system between Vineyard and Lehi that will reduce traffic on I-15.

As a commuter campus, UVU is working to reduce traffic by building campuses closer to where students and staff live and work. The university has campuses in Lehi, Orem, Provo, Vineyard and Heber, and will soon have locations in Eagle Mountain and Payson. UVU has partnered with the Utah Transit Authority to provide free access to students and employees to UTA buses, TRAX, FrontRunner and the UVX.

In partnership with the Utah Department of Transportation, UTA and the Utah Legislature, UVU unveiled a new pedestrian bridge above I-15, connecting the West Campus with the Orem Campus and UTA FrontRunner station. The bridge has significantly reduced vehicle traffic and currently serves over 4,000 people each day.

Efficient, sustainable transportation and livable communities will not be created by chance. We must all bring our best ideas together and advocate for solutions to make magic happen in Utah County. We are all in this together.

Astrid S. Tuminez, president of Utah Valley University.

Astrid S. Tuminez, Ph.D., is president of Utah Valley University.

Julie Fullmer | Vineyard Mayor

Julie Fullmer is mayor of Vineyard.

Mark Johnson | Lehi Mayor

Mark Johnson is mayor of Lehi.

Richard Brunst | Orem Mayor

Richard Brunst is mayor of Orem.