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More Dogs on Main Street

ByTom Clyde

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the United States hit 300 million people this week. They had it down to an exact time — a baby born at 7:46 a.m. on Tuesday would be the 300 millionth American. Of course it is only an estimate. They don t keep track of us that closely. Dick Cheney and the NSA probably have a better count, but it is top secret. So we have to make do with the Census Bureau estimate.

Three hundred million is a lot of people. I think every one of them was trying to make left turns through Kimball Junction at 5 o clock earlier in the week. Multiply that out by the number of gallons of water used in all those showers, by the number of toilet flushes, the number of Big Mac wrappers thrown away, and things begin to get a little overwhelming. The U.S. population was 200 million in 1967. You have to go back to 1915 to reach the 100 million people. The alarming figure is the estimate that we will hit 400 million by about 2030. That s really too many.

The increase is coming from all directions. It s immigration, births, and older people living longer. Add it all together, and it s just a whole lot of us. The coasts are already unpleasantly congested. At 400 million, life in general will be as uncomfortable as a coach seat on Delta. You might have to move to North Dakota to get a sense of space and solitude. I understand that the Canadians are quite concerned about it, and are considering building a fence along their southern border to keep Americans from simply swelling over the border.

There really are limits, at least if we are going to continue to enjoy the kind of life we all now enjoy. There s no way 300 million will fit in my hot tub. When you think about the additional building and paving necessary to house another 100 million in the next 30 years, it s pretty discouraging. Add 33 percent to everything you see now — except the open space. We either pave everything, or there will be another family living on the second floor of your house. You ll hardly notice them because you ll be stuck in traffic all the time.

The most interesting local news of the week was the proposal to link all of the Wasatch area ski resorts by a series of roads at the tops of the canyons. The proposal calls for tunnels to connect Alta and Brighton, and tunnels and snow sheds covering the avalanche-prone Guardsman Pass road from Park City to Brighton. The theory is that a skier staying at Snowbird would be able to drive to Park City in 20 minutes so he could stand in the checkout line at Albertsons with 300 million other Americans at 4:30 p.m. The cost for the venture is enormous — something like $250 million for the Cottonwood tunnels and $150 million for improvements on Guardsman Pass. The proponents of the deal think they could boost skier visits from the current four million a year to six million.

What s odd about this is that the plan didn t come from the ski areas. If anything, they sound a little wary of the costs, the changes in their traditional markets and, if you listen carefully, six million skier visits. Business can be too good. At six million skier days a year, every resort in Utah would feel like Vail at Christmas — all season long.

The proposal has been around in various forms for years. The current version was put forward by Charlene Walker, a member of the Utah legislature from the Cottonwood area of Salt Lake. Any connection with the state Legislature undermines the credibility of the plan. The real backing seems to have come from even farther a-field than that. The invitation to a meeting to discuss the plan was sent out by the San Francisco office of financial powerhouse Goldman-Sachs. Why Goldman-Sachs San Francisco office is inviting people to a meeting at the governor s conference room is a little cloudy. The governor s office claims this is not their proposal, not their meeting, and not their talking points memo. The resorts and Ski Utah seem to have been taken by surprise on this one.

I guess it s possible that a couple of financial whiz kids in San Francisco just up and decided to invite 25 of the most influential people in the Utah ski industry to a meeting and knew who those 25 were. It s also possible that they looked around and decided that the best place to hold that kind of meeting would be at the governor s office. Maybe nobody at the governor s office would notice if they all just showed up and were wearing expensive suits and carrying brief cases.

Possible, but not the way to bet. I don t believe the idea spontaneously erupted at Goldman-Sachs in California. The governor s office had to be involved in there somehow. That s not to say it s a terrible idea. There s nothing wrong with considering options and looking at things on a grand scale. I just have a hard time picturing Utah coming up with $400 million for ski tunnels when the rest of the state s transportation system is so inadequate. Even if built as toll roads, it seems like pie in the sky.

Given the environmental sensitivity of the Cottonwood Canyons, you have to wonder why anybody would deliberately poke a stick in that hornet nest. Maybe that s why the guv is putting some distance between himself and the meeting being held in the conference room adjoining his office. He probably won t even buy the doughnuts and Postum for the meeting.

It will be interesting to watch this one. The big meeting at the governor s office is Nov. 3. My guess is that the proposal will have gone back on the shelf by the next day.


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