Transportation Issues Facing Cottonwood Heights

Transportation Issues Facing Cottonwood Heights
Posted on 06/01/2015
By Tee Tyler, Council Member

Each January, as the Utah Senate and House of Representatives convene, they consider over 1,000 bills or potential new laws, many of which impact the government of our city. There are changes to water laws, annexation laws, record-keeping and reporting, health care laws and taxation, just to name a few.

This is why Cottonwood Heights is a member of the Utah League of Cities and Towns. Every legislative session, all 245 cities in Utah keep a close watch on what transpires on Utah’s Capitol Hill and, through the League, give input concerning the bills that will affect local government.

One of the more important results of the 2015 session dealt with a particularly important need--transportation funding. (Transportation is defined here in broad terms, including creation of new roads, road repairs, public transit, more and improved bike lanes, more trails, more public parking for recreation areas, etc.). As our state’s population grows at a rapid rate, our transportation infrastructure needs to anticipate this growth and prepare for our future. Proper maintenance of our existing infrastructure also is crucial. The non-partisan Utah Foundation recently reported that Utah has an $11.3 billion shortfall over the next 30 years for “priority” highway and mass transit projects.

Assuring a reliable, adequate funding source for constructing and maintaining the local roads within Utah's cities is an equally important issue facing each of us. The 24.5 cent/gallon tax on gas that traditionally has provided funding for city streets has not increased since 1997. During that time, inflation has decreased the buying power of those tax funds, the price of oil (used for asphalt) has increased, and the fuel efficiency of vehicles generally has increased (thereby decreasing the fuel tax generated by each vehicle). The combined result of these and other changes is that traditional funding sources for local streets have become inadequate.

Various alternatives were discussed at the legislature this year regarding how to pay for transportation needs and how best to distribute any new funding. The result was two principal bills. The first bill was Senate Bill #160 sponsored by Senator Kevin Van Tassell of Vernal, Utah. The bill called for a 10 cent/gallon increase in the state gasoline tax. After much debate and negotiation, the tax increase amount was reduced to 5 cents/gallon and passed by both houses of the legislature.

While this legislation was a step towards addressing our state’s infrastructure and transportation needs, some feel that it won’t fund the amount cities and counties need to maintain their roads and keep their budgets in line.

The other bill, House Bill #362, was sponsored by Rep. Johnny Anderson of Taylorsville, Utah. It was written to also help fund our transportation needs. This bill proposes a ¼ cent local option sales tax, with the resulting revenue to be shared by cities, counties and public transit. This bill also passed both houses of our legislature, but requires a public vote before it becomes law. That vote could be scheduled for as early as this November, but may be delayed until November 2016. House Bill #362 goes much further than Senate Bill #160 in funding Utah's transportation needs. Ultimately, Senate Bill 160 was made part of House Bill 362 so that the one bill provided a combined approach (gas tax and sales tax) to transportation funding.

Our state Senators and Representatives have worked out a two-part approach to address future funding of broad-based transportation needs in our state. As the state’s population continues to grow, further transportation funding ideas and legislation may be needed. Watch for more information to be published as we approach elections this fall. It will be up to the citizenry to decide if now is the time to implement the proposed sales tax component of transportation funding. We appreciate the vision of our legislators in provided these tools for addressing the future transportation needs. It is my hope that the citizens of Cottonwood Heights will become well educated on the issue and exercise their voting rights to address our transportation needs.