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Even with an upcoming hike in the state's gasoline tax and new increases in sales taxes from the passage of Proposition 1 in many counties, Utah still faces a projected shortfall of about $7.3 billion for high-priority transit and highway projects through 2040.
That calculation is contained in an update of the state's Unified Transportation Plan presented to legislators Wednesday. Before the new tax hikes, officials had projected the shortfall for state and local projects at about $11 billion through 2040.
With a continuing big shortfall looming, some legislators questioned whether it may be wise to allow cities and counties to ask voters for tax increases for local roads without linking the request to increases for the Utah Transit Authority.
Proposition 1 was designed so it would give 40 percent of new revenues to UTA in Wasatch Front counties, and 60 percent to cities and counties for local roads.
Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said many considered that forced combination as "a poison pill," and would have voted for Prop 1 if it were just for local roads. The measure was defeated in the two largest counties Salt Lake and Utah counties. He questioned if separating transit and roads would be wise to help trim shortfalls for road projects.
A new bill file opened by Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, would do exactly that, said some legislators.
Greene declined comment about it Wednesday. But he earlier had signed a public statement urging voters to reject Prop 1 so that the Legislature could rework laws to allow tax hikes just for local roads and not the UTA.
Also, Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, is pushing a bill to allow small counties to choose to give less than 40 percent to transit districts in their areas. His Cache County has its own transit agency, and he says it may not need the full 40 percent share required for it by current state law.
The new Unified Transportation Plan figures Utah needs $67.5 billion worth of high-priority projects through 2040, but says current taxes will provide only $60.2 billion.
That includes revenue from a 4.9-cent-per-gallon increase in gasoline taxes that the Legislature approved this year, which will take effect Jan. 1. That tax will rise automatically in the future, tied to increases in the price of gasoline.
Proposition 1 will raise sales taxes by a penny for every $4 in purchases in the 10 counties that passed it. Another seven counties defeated it. Twelve did not put it on the ballot this year.
Shane Marshall, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation, said revenue from the gasoline tax hike will fully fund bridges and pavement on state highways "in acceptable conditions for generations to come."
The unified plan figures the state through 2040 will need about $18 billion for projects to expand road capacity, plus $28.8 billion in projects for road maintenance and preservation.
It says $7 billion worth of new mass transit projects are need to increase system capacity, and another $13.7 billion is needed for transit maintenance and preservation projects.
Matt Sibul, chief planning officer for UTA, said that agency has enough projected revenue in the plan to handle needed maintenance for existing transit projects, and any that may be built.
If the updated unified transportation plan is fully implemented, said Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, it will reduce vehicle emissions by 68 percent compared to 2012 levels even with expected increases in population and miles driven.
He added that it is estimated to more than double the number of people who would take UTA transit to work or school from 38,200 today to 76,500 in 2040.