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Thanks to prospective tax hikes just allowed by the Legislature, Utah's two largest transportation agencies said Wednesday that their financial outlook is now the brightest in years.
Still, they say finances could be a bit shaky depending on what Congress and Utah voters may do in coming months.
The state Transportation Commission (which oversees the Utah Department of Transportation) and the Utah Transit Authority Board held a joint coordinativon meeting Wednesday, and leaders of both praised possibilities they have because of a new law, HB362.
It will increase state gasoline taxes by 5 cents a gallon on Jan. 1, with provisions to allow future automatic increases.
It also allows local elections on whether to raise sales taxes by a quarter-cent per dollar in sales. Forty percent of that revenue would go to UTA for transit, while 40 percent would go to cities and 20 percent to counties for local roads.
"I don't think any state can say that they are in as good of a place in terms of transportation funding," UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras said, noting the coming gasoline-tax increase.
In recent years, UDOT quit regular maintenance of lesser-used highways in rural areas to afford maintaining heavily used freeways and highways in urban areas.
But with the new gas tax projected to generate $17 million next year "As time goes on, it's going to meet the needs for our low-volume roads," Braceras said. "We now can say we have a sustainable state transportation system, preserving our infrastructure and mobility."
But he said problems still lurk because the current federal transportation funding law expires next month. UDOT can keep up with maintenance and growth only if its current federal funding of about $307.5 million a year remains fairly constant, he said, and Congress may not be able to continue that.
Because of uncertainty about federal funds, "We're not going to be able to probably get out and build all of the projects that we would have this fiscal year because we're not even able to advertise those jobs. We're going to have to wait for them [Congress] to reauthorize the program," Braceras said.
Meanwhile, UTA President and CEO Michael Allegra reported that UTA is on firm financial footing to operate its current routes and system but needs funding from the possible sales-tax increase to help restore and expand bus service that was reduced during the recession to help afford new rail lines that were built then.
"We spent a lot of money building a great rail line," but now is the time to "fill in those places" that do not have enough transit service. Allegra said that increasing "the frequency of service is really our next big agenda."
UTA looks forward to showing the public how it would use the tax money, he said, and convince voters that it would be money well spent.
"We would intend to partner with the cities and counties and get out there and explain to the public what it is we'll be able to offer with those resources," he said.