SALT LAKE CITY — Late last June, Gov. Gary Herbert joined Mayors Ralph Becker, Ben McAdams, the Salt Lake Chamber and other community partners to issue the Clear Air Challenge. This year marked the fifth such challenge encouraging Utahans across the state to think more about their travel habits and to find ways to reduce the amount of air pollution we create.
The Challenge is issued in July, because next to the heavy inversion months of mid-winter, it is the worst time of year for our overall air quality.
By any measure, the month-long Clear Air Challenge was a huge success. More than 8,500 participating Utahans eliminated nearly 1.9 million miles traveled and 169,035 single occupant vehicle trips. These are the highest totals in any single year of the Challenge.
Over the past five years, Clear Air Challenge participants have saved over 7.1 million vehicle miles traveled, preventing more than nine million pounds of emissions and eliminating more than 600,000 car trips.
Participants in the challenge tracked the trips and miles they save online with TravelWise, and the site automatically tallied their total savings in gallons of gasoline, money and reduced emissions.
The challenge itself has ended for the year, but the online tool is still available to help you track your contribution to reducing emissions at www.cleartheairchallenge.org.
On track for cleaner air
By any measure, the month-long Clear Air Challenge was a huge success. More than 8,500 participating Utahans eliminated nearly 1.9 million miles traveled and 169,035 single occupant vehicle trips.
This week UTA will open the Draper TRAX line. It's the fifth line (along with the lines to Mid-Jordan, West Valley and the Airport, as well as FrontRunner to Provo) to open in the past seven years. Utahans have made a significant investment in their transportation and transit infrastructure in the past few years and it is a key to Utah's economic success.
UTA will also finish the FrontLines 2015 projects an impressive two years ahead of schedule and more than $300 million under budget.
More and more Utahans recognize the importance and convenience of a top-notch transit system. Personally, I have been a loyal FrontRunner rider for several years. As a matter of fact, I wrote a majority of this column on the train. I love to get work done on the train during the half-hour ride into Salt Lake from Davis County.
I have seen first-hand a steady increase in the number of people on the train over the past five years, and ridership has exceeded UTA's projections.
More people on trains means fewer tailpipes to move the same amount of people, and that keeps our air cleaner, makes us healthier and conserves energy resources. It's a win-win-win.
The road to air quality
Increases to mass transit are not the only way smart policy decisions make a big difference, so Utah has also invested in expanding and maintaining roads.
More and more Utahans recognize the importance and convenience of a top-notch transit system.
Utah is the Crossroads of the West, and that means that in addition to our resident and commuter traffic, Utah has a lot of cross-country trucks passing through the state. With the vast majority of the state's population tucked along the Wasatch Front, congestion is always an issue Utah battles.
Utah's decision to build Legacy Highway, to expand I-15 in Davis County and to pursue the I-15 CORE project in Utah County and the on-going construction of the Mountain View Corridor, have all made traffic flow more smoothly. This means Utahans spend less time burning gas while we are stuck in traffic.
Utah's business community knows Utah must balance its economic interests as we carefully address air quality issues while minimizing costs to business. If we ignore the issue or simply fail to address it adequately, we run the risk of losing federal highway funding, having additional regulatory burdens and hurting our economic development and corporate recruitment efforts.
The business community also knows that private sector solutions are better than government mandates. Clean air makes good business sense, and the business community will continue to play a significant role in solving the issue.
Studies suggest that the single biggest contributor to our air quality issue is vehicle emissions. That means we all have to do our part. The tools that the Clear the Air Challenge employs to help Utahans see what thoughtful travel can mean to our community and to our wallets is a great place to start.