Guest editorial: Maintenance funding needs to keep pace with Utah’s infrastructure growth
Good roads cost less. This philosophy has kept Utah’s roadway infrastructure in good shape. With 6,000 miles of state maintained roadways, Utah is in an enviable position as one of the best managed states in the nation. And when it comes to state roads, the Utah Department of Transportation has taken a fiscally-responsible approach of regular upkeep to prevent deterioration and make our roads and bridges last longer.
Approximately $180 million is spent annually to preserve $25 billion in roadway infrastructure assets, including pavement and bridges. But UDOT has projected that an additional $27 million per year will be needed to maintain the statewide transportation network to the standard Utahans have come to expect. As we look at the service life expectancy of roads and bridges across the state, engineers predict that this increase in maintenance funds will be needed in the next five years.
As we plan for Utah’s future, now is the time to get sustainable funding mechanisms for road and bridge maintenance in place. Utah has had a history of funding programs to address capacity, and certainly capacity will be part of ongoing transportation conversations as Utah continues to grow. But we also need to uphold the philosophy that has been working well for so long: Good roads cost less. Funding maintenance needs should be addressed alongside funding for capacity improvements.
UDOT has already been working with $40 million less than needed to adequately maintain all state roadways for the past seven years. In order to address the shortfall, UDOT created a tiered system for classifying highways in acknowledgement that funding levels are not enough to maintain the entire system. Interstates and roads with more than 1,000 vehicles per day are rightfully given priority for maintenance funds. However, funding is insufficient to maintain roads that carry less than 1,000 vehicles per day, which represent one-third of Utah’s roadways. This management strategy has helped UDOT determine where to spend limited funds; but it also means many rural roads are in a less desirable state of repair.
For example, SR-191 going south from Duchesne over Indian Canyon does not qualify for maintenance funds under this tiered distribution of maintenance funds. This roadway is increasingly a vital economic corridor for the energy extraction industry in the Uinta Basin to connect with national rail lines near Helper. It is also the most accessible north-south route connecting northeast and southeast Utah.
Our rural state highways are lifelines for people who live, work and recreate in more remote areas of Utah. Although parts of our state are highly urbanized, much of Utah’s beauty is in more rural and isolated areas that the State has committed to link through a roadway network. And although many of these roadways carry fewer travelers, they are vital to help keep Utah moving in agriculture, business, tourism and recreation as well as preserving a way of life loved by many rural Utahans.
As we deal with all of the above, our local governments have needs as well, current funding allows for a 70/30 split from the fuel tax that benefit B and C roads that will improve our local cities and counties to make up for lost purchasing as well.
As long-term transportation funding strategies are discussed during this year’s legislative session, I will certainly be raising the voice of rural Utahans and speak to the need for increased maintenance funds across the state. Protecting our infrastructure investments help our taxpayer dollars go further into the future.