Move prison to make space
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There is a phrase that goes, "If you build it, they will come." However, along Utah's Wasatch Front, even if we do not build it, they will still come.

Sometime before the end of 2040, the Wasatch Front will add 1.2 million new residents for a 60 percent growth in population.

How we accommodate this new growth will largely determine whether we maintain our high quality of life or not. In other words, we will certainly grow; it is how we grow that matters.

The Wasatch Front Regional Council, the Mountainland Association of Governments, Envision Utah and many other public and private-sector stakeholders in the region have collaborated to develop the Wasatch Choice for 2040 Vision for growth and development. Wasatch Choice would create opportunities for growth to occur in centers across the region.

These centers would provide choices for housing, employment, retail and recreation near regional transportation systems. This would help absorb much of the growth in a way that will minimize the negative effects of sprawl while helping to maintain the character of existing neighborhoods.

A recent Salt Lake Tribune editorial ("Utah State Prison: Be skeptical of relocation scheme," Opinion, Dec. 19) cautioned about moving Utah State Prison, raising concerns that if the current site of the prison is developed it would "contribute to the already vexing woes of urban sprawl that include traffic jams and air pollution."

But given the growth that is coming, redevelopment of the site has the potential to help, not hurt, our region's mobility and air quality, when compared to an alternative of converting existing open space or farms to residential and commercial development.

The prison site is centrally located in our large, linear metropolitan area, which, according to the 2010 Census, stretches from Nephi in the south all the way to Brigham City in the north.

This central location would make visits to and from this potential center convenient for residents, employees and shoppers.

Moreover, the site has excellent access to roads and public transit — namely I-15 and FrontRunner — that have already been built.

Creating opportunities for growth to occur near existing infrastructure reduces the need for expensive new roads and transit, again when compared to the alternative of that growth occurring in areas that do not have such access.

Further, a well-planned, market-based development strategy could include a mix of employment and retail centers, integrated with residential options and parks, creating the opportunity for residents to work, shop and play closer to home, reducing the need for long driving trips.

When one considers the prison site within the context of the entire metropolitan area, the advantages of the area's centrality and accessibility become more clear.

A focused development center in that location could accomplish many good purposes and help us reduce growth pressures in other areas of the region.

Andrew Gruber is executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council. Email: agruber@wfrc.org