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A proposal to shift $10 million a year away from highway construction possibly to help build a controversial Lake Powell pipeline drew concern Friday from legislators who oversee transportation budgets.
They asked the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to prepare a list of projects that may be delayed or shelved if such a shift occurs, and worried aloud that projects important to their districts could be on the bubble.
Gov. Gary Herbert's budget proposes to cut the Transportation Investment Fund by $10 million a year for five years or $50 million total. That fund is used generally for large projects that expand the capacity of highways to carry more traffic.
Carlos Braceras, UDOT executive director, told appropriators Friday the move would reduce the amount of overall state sales tax going to transportation to be closer to the 17 percent that officials figure comes from sales of cars and accessories for them.
Among the proposals for use of diverted transportation money is SB80, which could shift money to a new water projects fund. Critics figure that may be used eventually to help construct a controversial Lake Powell pipeline to help supply water to southwestern Utah.
Braceras said UDOT would be able to complete all currently planned and funded highway projects while absorbing that $10 million a year decrease.
But Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the real question is what projects will not be built, or will be delayed, if that money is shifted. He asked UDOT to prepare a list of projects that could be on the bubble, and Braceras promised to do so.
Hillyard said he is concerned, for example, about a project to improve State Road 30 between Logan and Tremonton. "I think my people may be very nervous if that is somewhere in the plan currently, and you do this and it gets bumped way down."
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees transportation, said "that's a concern expressed by other people in our body."
He also wants to see a list of projects that could be in jeopardy "to help us make more informed decisions." He also wants it expanded a bit to see what even greater diversions of highway funds called for in SB80 might do to transportation.
Sen. Karen Mayne, R-West Valley City, said she is worried the zeal to shift the money from highways "could affect long-term planning," and hurt economic development. She said the state can try to attract new firms, but if employees "can't get to work… they are not coming here."