Utah to start planning statewide trail network after initial $90M investment

A jogger uses the Legacy Parkway Trail in Woods Cross on Oct. 28, 2022. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill last week that sets up the framework and initial funding needed to begin a statewide trail system.

A jogger uses the Legacy Parkway Trail in Woods Cross on Oct. 28, 2022. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill last week that sets up the framework and initial funding needed to begin a statewide trail system. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn't the flashiest bill the Utah Legislature passed this year nor was it the most contentious.

But Utah transportation officials believe that SB185 will benefit statewide transportation for generations to come. The legislation, which Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed last week, clarifies a few transportation mistakes in state code. It also creates an active transportation fund that can be used for infrastructure like paved pedestrian and nonmotorized trails, much like it has a fund for other types of transportation.

The fund can collect up to $45 million in a given fiscal year, according to the bill. The Legislature's $29.4 billion 2024 fiscal year budget also sets aside $90 million toward active transportation projects, half of which comes from one-time spending and the other half of which will go into this new fund.

It's the legislative framework and initial funding needed to begin building a statewide trail system, which Cox and Utah Department of Transportation officials announced in October.

"(The bill) is going to make it possible for us to really see this vision through," UDOT spokesman John Gleason told KSL.com Tuesday. "It's not going to happen tomorrow but years from now, people are going to look back (on it) and realize what a great moment it was. This is an exciting time."

The plan that Cox and UDOT unveiled last year would link the existing multiuse pathways in the state to one another. That means the multicounty Jordan River Parkway Trail along the Wasatch Front could eventually connect with a similar trail system in southern Utah. The same goes for other local paved trail networks across the state.

The overarching trail network would ultimately connect communities for people who either choose not to drive or can't for any reason. It can also serve as a safer option for bikers and runners as they exercise, and even serve as a major recreational opportunity for residents.


During a legislative meeting last month, UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras also pointed out that roads and public transportation alone won't meet the total transportation needs for Utah's ongoing growth. Both he and Cox refer to the idea as the "interstate of the trail systems" that already exist.

"The idea behind this is being able to connect those trails together so people of all abilities can get to where they want to go in the way they want to do it and to do it safely," Braceras said in the meeting.

Yet it's still too early to know what those exact connections will look like. UDOT won't receive its new project funds until the start of the fiscal year on July 1, and state transportation officials are also still trying to figure out how to turn the money into projects.

The agency is in the process of forming a new section that focuses solely on multiuse trails as it slowly turns the idea into a reality, Gleason said. However, since communities across Utah have already designed their own trails, there is at least a blueprint from which to begin work.

Gleason adds that the project will be a department "priority" moving forward.

"Right now, it's not always possible for people to get to where they're going walking and biking with as much as ease as they'd like," he said. "This is a step in the right direction."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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