California, Nevada and Colorado are proving that Utah is too chicken to build big things | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

California, Nevada and Colorado are proving that Utah is too chicken to build big things 

Small Lake City

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Every time I travel, I'm newly reminded how badly the Utah Department of Transportation has failed this state.

Readers may recall a piece I wrote in this space about driving to Scout camp and wishing, instead, that I could have taken a train. At the time, Utah was exploring restored passenger rail service to Boise and Las Vegas and as I burned gasoline through mile after mile of congested highway, I could see a line of decommissioned tracks taunting me outside the window.

A train to Boise might be a tougher sell, for some, but a train to Vegas is a no-brainer. Plenty of Utahns make that trip regularly; in fact, my wife and I drove there for New Year's Eve and, again, I wish I could have taken a train.

We hit congestion in Utah, we hit congestion in Arizona and we hit congestion in Nevada. We belched untold quantities of carbon and other pollutants into the air, poisoning ourselves and our neighbors in three states. We left the car parked in the casino garage for the entirety of our stay, wasting space and paying for its storage. And while we made it home unscathed, our safety at every moment on the road was contingent on the responsibility of strangers around us, each piloting a 3,000-pound missile at high speeds.

The federal government just announced a historic round of passenger rail investments. Across the country, existing routes will be improved, abandoned routes will be restored and new routes will be created. Every person who opts for that rail service will, in effect, be opting out of traffic, easing congestion for those who drive.

Not in Utah. Our state's request for money to merely study rail expansion failed to make the cut, and rail activists suggest a lack of governmental enthusiasm is to blame. While that speculation is unconfirmed, state leaders have done little to disabuse the notion.

Utah has simply put all of its chips on driving, and it's a bad bet. I'm not just saying all this because of my personal interest in the nonprofit Sweet Streets.

In recent years, Denver has transformed itself by restoring its downtown Union Station, a project analogous to Salt Lake's Rio Grande Plan. California is (slowly) making headway on its high-speed rail corridor and a separate, private project will add an express train between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with the help of a $3 billion grant from the federal government.

By contrast, UDOT's best idea is one more lane on I-15. And then another. And then another. When horizontal expansion can no longer be justified, UDOT likely dreams of adding lanes vertically, building decks on top of the freeway until the endless walls of interstate blot out the sun—plus a gondola in the canyon that doesn't even run during Oktoberfest.

Small Lake City is home to local writers and their opinions.

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About The Author

Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

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