Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: Of road widening and traffic jams
As the population of Utah grows, the Wasatch Front should prepare for a permanent traffic jam, especially since managers at the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) seem to think they can build their way out of congestion.
Jason Davis, deputy director of UDOT, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “without construction and improvements, we eventually get bogged down and we become California.” Unfortunately, Davis has it exactly backwards.
The hideous car-dominated landscapes of California were created by freeway expansion that creates “induced demand” for more driving. Instead of solving the congestion problem, road-expansion encourages people to buy houses further from work. Eventually rush hour and air pollution problems become worse than ever.
Unfortunately, Utah is going backwards. In 2019, the Utah Legislature undid a 2005 agreement to mitigate negative impacts of the Legacy Parkway, apparently in order to facilitate heavy truck traffic to the inland port. UDOT also rejected a “Shared Solution” plan that offered an alternative to slicing through Davis County communities with a new West Davis Freeway.
Back in 1996 the citizen group Utahns for Better Transportation opposed the Legacy Parkway because “it is the answer to the wrong question.” Instead of planning to accommodate predictions for more traffic, they said, we need to figure out ways to reduce increases in traffic from the prediction.
Building transit first is one option to reduce driving. Other strategies are to build bicycle and pedestrian amenities for active transportation, and building housing near shopping. Other cities have addressed traffic woes by removing multi-lane freeways, and it seems inevitable that an overcrowded Wasatch Font will eventually have to consider freeway removal as well.
It’s true that not everyone can get where they need to go without a car, but even so, if people only drove when they needed to there wouldn’t be so many traffic jams in the first place.