Mayor's Message: Putting the Housing Cart Before the Transportation Horse

By Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs

Putting the Housing Cart Before the Transportation HorseOver 160,000 new people, or 70% of the entire population growth of Salt Lake County, have made the southwest communities of West Jordan, South Jordan, Riverton, Herriman, Copperton, and Bluffdale their home since 2000. About half of the increase is now attributed to move-ins from other states – in large part due to successful recruiting efforts by the State to relocate certain businesses and industries to the region. With more than half of the undeveloped acreage left in the county, this quadrant has seen a flurry of housing activity of all types to help accommodate this growth, increasing the amount of multifamily housing to 35% or more of all housing stock. These levels are on par or greater than other areas of the county.

To support such rapid expansion, the State is trying to now play “catch up” with the requisite transportation infrastructure. Ask any resident from the area, or drive anywhere in the quadrant during peak hours, and you will know there is a problem.

If the anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to convince you of a transportation crisis in the southwest area, then consider these facts:

  • There are 12 driving miles between I-15 and the western parts of Herriman, South Jordan and West Jordan, compared to just 6 miles from I-15 to Wasatch Blvd on the county’s east side. Twice the distance with no adequate east-west connectors, comparable to I-215.
  • Major intersections in the area are in failure status, according to UDOT. Traffic count projections for 2040 are exponentially higher than today.
  • From 2002 to 2016, southwest Salt Lake County communities received only about 23% of all transportation funding spent in the county. 70% of that funding was spent since 2010. Much of this funding has been used for right of way acquisition (buying land, not building roads).
  • Mountain View Corridor, which didn’t even exist in 2010, is projected to have as many cars traveling on it as I-15 did in 2010 (150k+). Bangerter Highway has the same traffic projections; the equivalent of two, I-15s running through the southwest part of the valley.

Affordable housing proponents ignore the current transportation crisis. They are pushing the public and state policymakers to just add more housing, particularly multifamily housing. Moreover, the state legislature is now entertaining options that would withhold state transportation dollars (your tax monies) to communities that don’t adhere to their top-down planning directives to build higher densities. This is wholly irresponsible, and it would only exacerbate the transportation crisis we are in today. It literally puts the cart before the horse – and then they’ll take away your horse if you don’t add to the cart!

The focus right now should be on sustainability – think water, roadway infrastructure and invested citizenry. This is something city planning commissions, planning staff and local elected officials understand in trying to responsibly plan their communities. This is why local land use authority has been historically delegated to municipalities, who coordinate with county and state officials to plan regionally significant roadways.

Given the roadway infrastructure provided residents on the east side of I-15, the wide geography of the southwest area that lacks any interstate connectivity, and the critical level of traffic counts in this region, the answer here is obvious. The State must invest in the requisite infrastructure for current demand levels first, before forcing higher housing densities that will only exacerbate the transportation crisis we find ourselves in today.

As southwest communities, we are working together to understand the collective impact of our planning decisions and are organizing a visioning study for this part of the valley. The study will make recommendations on how to better integrate our networks – roadway, active transportation, and transit. There are however immediate steps the State can take to alleviate congestion now. We implore them to fully fund and complete the Bangerter Highway conversion to a full freeway (~$500M), finish Mountain View Corridor to connect all the way to I-15 (~$500M) and improve east-west connectivity between the I-215 belt route and Bangerter Highway. The State could appropriate, bond or otherwise invest immediately to complete these projects. With a projected state surplus of $1.3B, and with the state bonding ceiling less than 50%, the State has the means to immediately mitigate this transportation crisis in the southwest area.