Tribune editorial: Make growth pay for itself. And for TRAX.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

There has never been any secret or shame about the fact that the decision by the Utah Legislature to build a new state prison near the Great Salt Lake was not just about having a shiny new state-of-the-art correctional facility. It was at least as much about the economic bonanza that would occur, Oklahoma Land Rush style, on the land where the old prison sits.

The question now is whether said bonanza will accrue only to the builders, developers and commission-collecting real estate agents. Or whether it will benefit the entire region.

One giant answer to that question will be who pays for the necessary public services to the redeveloped land at the Point of the Mountain in Draper. And one giant answer to that — about a billion dollars' worth — will be how the Utah Transit Authority manages to extend its reach into the area.

And the answer to that? Impact fees. Big impact fees. Up front. As a premium on the sale of state-owned land to developers. As a charge on rezonings, plats, building permits and all the other details of development in the area.

No matter how the old prison site develops — homes, stores, factories, warehouses, public institutions or all of the above — both it and the surrounding area will be unlivable without carefully planned transportation infrastructure. And that means, among other things, TRAX.

An extension of Salt Lake County’s popular light rail system into Point of the Mountain and on to Lehi is both necessary and expensive. At least $1 billion. And the early discussion phase of that project comes just when UTA’s new management had reasonably pledged to focus on upgrading the more, so to speak, pedestrian bus system over the costly rail projects that have left the agency $2 billion in debt.

The $119 million a year that goes toward retiring that debt is now the largest single line item in the UTA budget. A lot more than the $800,000 it might soon spend on the necessary study of how to serve the new developments at the county’s south end.

To be at all useful, that study will have to identify how the new track, stations, cars and ticket machines will be paid for. To be reasonable, the source of most or all of that revenue should be the Point of the Mountain project itself.

There’s no doubt that moving the land from tax-exempt state ownership to tax-paying private property will bring in billions in revenue to the affected communities. And there will be at least some retail development that will pay sales tax to, among other things, UTA.

But that will all take years to mature. The TRAX extension, as well as roads, schools, fire stations, police cars and all that stuff, will be needed right away.

And, oh, yes, we’re also paying for the new prison.

The Point of the Mountain development should pay for itself. With dividends for all the Utah residents and property owners who will be affected.