Lieutenant Governor Takes Driver's Seat on Traffic Problems

Lieutenant Governor Takes Driver's Seat on Traffic Problems

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Travel on Utah roads is growing twice as fast as the population, stretching the state's ability to pay for new roads.

Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who commutes between his Orem home and Salt Lake City office, knows traffic backups on Interstate-15 all too well. Herbert is leading Gov. Jon Huntsman's effort to come up with some solutions, which could include higher taxes, toll roads and designated toll lanes on existing highways.

"The bottom line is the capacity we're building is lagging way behind," Herbert told a gathering of city and county officials from Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties.

Transportation planners say an extra I-15 lane in Utah County will help alleviate traffic but won't solve the big problem.

In the next 10 years, relying on existing transportation revenues, Utah would come up $3.5 billion to $4 billion short of the needs, Herbert said.

"It's not just highways and roads," he said. "It's not just increasing mass transit. It's not just air travel, but really all of that together."

The gas tax generates most of the money Utah spends on road projects. But Herbert talked about ways to generate more revenue to cover the gap between what the state needs and what it can pay for.

Some ideas call for increasing the gasoline tax or indexing it to inflation; ending fuel tax exemptions; layering a sales tax on gas, and enlisting private developers to build roads and share toll revenue with the state.

"We may need to consider some radical changes," said Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn.

The meeting last Thursday was the first of seven Herbert will hold around the state with local associations of government. They'll take the information they gather to a transportation summit planned for Oct. 14. Then they'll draft a plan for legislative action in January.

A bill that quietly slipped through the Utah Legislature earlier this year allows the transportation department to collect tolls on future roads.

Officials say the leading candidate for an electronic tollway is the 33-mile Mountain View corridor, which will run along Salt Lake County's fast-developing western half, picking up traffic from new housing developments, from the Salt Lake airport to Utah County's Pleasant Grove.

Utah legislators were briefed last June on the path being blazed by other states. Texas is looking at charging 10-15 cents per mile for a massive superhighway network, and Colorado plans to levy 18-28 cents depending on congestion times along Front Range roads.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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