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The City Café

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Category Archives: Transportation

UTC Kickoff

Happy Friday!  Per Part 1, Lincoln and Cameron went to Nepal with the Moran Eye Center and then explored the Khumbu region after the Eye Clinic ended.  Utah cities spend millions of dollars to maintain a surface road system that allows people, goods, and services to circulate in the community.  Local roads are a key cog in the entire transportation network and the local economy.  In the summer, Utah cities send their public works departments to evaluate, re-surface, and repair roads.  In the winter, Utah cities ensure that snowy roads are plowed and are safe.  Roads are equally vital in Nepal, but the transportation system in the highlands is unpaved, vehicleless, and dominated by porters, trekkers, and yaks.

There are stretches of the Everest highway where the Nepali government has “paved” it, but you can tell they don’t possess an asphalt paver! Porters can carry up to 200 pounds on their backs.

Utah has large swaths of rural roads that connect rural communities and moves goods from rural Utah to the Wasatch Front and beyond. In Nepal, this sweet lady is walking along the main highway that connects all of the villages along the Mt. Everest trek. All goods must either be grown or produced in the village or carried to the village by porters. The highway is primarily dirt—no worries about potholes—and is long and steep. No snow removal either. Notice the suspension bridge behind her.


A bridge too far?

Suspension bridges literally connect Nepal together. Utah cities often build overpasses, underpasses, and other vehicle and pedestrian bridges to connect communities over and around freeways, railroad tracks, water bodies, or other busy roads. In Nepal, villages straddle the hillside and the bridges can hang hundreds of feet above the raging river and stretch thousands of feet across the valley. They are covered with Buddhist prayer flags, and the bridges can bring the most agnostic trekker to prayer. The bridges sway with the canyon winds, and if an animal is crossing the bridge, hold on tight!

When roads are built in Utah cities, the public works department sends heavy equipment, notifies residents of the construction and potential delay, and detours traffic. The public works department considers retaining walls, storm water runoff, structural stability, and other engineering requirements. This Nepali road is the busiest highway in Kathmandu and they are adding another lane. The workers are chiseling, excavating, and building the road… by hand.

Yak attack!

Instead of sharing the thoroughfare with vehicles as you would in Utah cities, porters and trekkers must watch for mules, cattle, and yaks. We never saw any “yak crossing” signs, but you learned quickly that a 2000 pound yak has right of way regardless of whether you were there first. As you may expect, yaks and others leave their manure in the road and Nepalese cities do not have a cleanup service. Utah cities provide poop bags at local dog parks but we don’t recommend expanding that service for pet yaks!

Have a great Utah fall weekend!




Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee:

Of most interest to Utah cities is the discussion over transportation funding.  Provo Mayor John Curtis presented for discussion purposes a proposal to allow retiring city-issued road bond levies to be converted into a dedicated property tax levy for road maintenance.  Discussion evolved from this particular proposal into a broader discussion of transportation funding – including gas tax and sales tax increases.  The committee proposed meeting next month with the Transportation Interim Committee in a joint committee meeting to focus in more detail on transportation funding issues.

Political Subdivisions Interim Committee

This committee held a broader discussion on the issue of government competition with private enterprise.  Representative Curt Webb, Committee Chair stated that his concern was to generally discuss the issue and no action would be taken.  Representatives of Higher Education, Public Education and local government were asked to comment.  Much of the discussion centered on efforts to privatize services.  Roger Tew of the ULCT and Adam Troup of UAC spoke for local government.  Roger pointed out many cities had undertaken serious privatization efforts and also noted that First and Second Class cities had complied with the competitive inventory legislation passed in 2008.  He also emphasized that any type of bright-line test for what are appropriate governmental activities is highly problematic.  He also emphasized that these policy decisions go to core of why cities and towns are governed by their own local decisions which may well differ between communities.  The committee indicated that they may hold further hearings on the future but do not plan any particular legislation.

Transportation Interim Committee

The Transportation Interim committee discussed the Unified Transportation Bill, the recent federal transportation appropriation legislation (MAP 21), and corridor preservation.  Leaders of Utah’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs; Andrew Gruber of Wasatch Front Regional Council and Andrew Jackson of Mountainland Association of Governments) testified to the committee about the financial demands for Utah’s transportation infrastructure, how the MPOs bring local leaders together to draft comprehensive transportation plans on a 4 year basis, and distributed the current Unified Transportation Plan to the committee.  They pledged that Unified Transportation Plan would strengthen the economy, benefit the entire state Utah, maximize scarce resources, and demonstrate good stewardship over the land, money, and resources involved in the transportation system.  Afterwards, Linda Hull of the Utah Department of Transportation briefed the committee about MAP-21 and its impact in Utah.  The four-fold purpose of MAP-21 is to provide funding, consolidate programs, become performance based, and accelerate project delivery.  Utah will receive $312 million in Fiscal Year 2012 and 2013 and $314 in Fiscal Year 2014.  The bill also extended transportation-related taxes and fees through 2016.  Finally, the committee reviewed Representative Brad Last’s proposal on corridor preservation options.  Currently, if a city or town is located in a county that also is home to a metropolitan planning organization, but the city or town does not belong to the MPO, then that city or town cannot use corridor preservation fund money to set aside future transportation corridors.  Currently, only the cities and towns that belong to the MPO can access the corridor preservation fund.  Representative Last’s proposal would allow such cities and towns outside the MPO to use fund money for corridor preservation and utilize such resources for planning.  The committee unanimously adopted the proposal as a committee bill and expect continued support from MPOs and quick passage during the 2013 session.


Revenue and Taxation Committee: Telecommunications Taxes

The Rev and Tax interim committee discussed various study items.  There were several items that impact municipal interests.  First, the committee will begin a study of various taxes and fees on telecommunication activities.  Obviously among these charges are the Municipal Telecommunications Tax and E-911 charges.  The committee was made aware of the complexity of the issues and the potential impact on city revenues.  However, there are also several significant changes in the delivery of telecommunication services that merit further discussion.  The committee understands that this is a multiyear undertaking and that cities will have to be involved.

Second, the committee will continue to examine the issue of how to tax hotel room purchases on services such as Travelocity and Expedia.  Various proposals have been introduced in the past and all of the options will be discussed during this year’s interim.

Lastly, the committee wants to look at the option of restoring the sales tax on food to the various sales tax levies that it was removed from in the past.  The basic 1% local option still has food in the base.  However, our specialty levies do not.

Transportation Committee: Buy America Provisions

The Transportation Interim Committee discussed UDOT’s ongoing projects as well as challenges that all political entities are facing with the federal Buy America program.  The Buy America program requires that all transportation projects that use any federal funds to only use steel and iron manufactured in the United States.  If any portion of the project does not comply with Buy America, then the federal government will not reimburse the costs that they had committed to provide.   While the principle is laudable, many cities and towns have encountered difficulties in complying with the program.  For example, some cities have discovered that certain steel parts are no longer manufactured in the United States.  As a result, the entire project has been delayed.  UDOT is also trying to pre-certify vendors to ensure that they are certified.  Likewise, UDOT and utility companies are reevaluating how they approach projects so that utility companies could avoid the Buy America requirements.  However, that means that utility companies and the transportation agency would have to dig on two separate occasions instead of doing the project simultaneously.  The end result that UDOT and municipalities face is increased project costs and delays.  ULCT expressed our concern about the consequences of Buy America and will continue to work with the Federal Highway Administration and the congressional delegation.

Business and Labor Committee: Alcohol Regulation

The Business and Labor Interim Committee discussed the current quota alcohol retail license scheme as well as the “monetization” of retail licenses.  Currently, there are no full-service restaurant, limited-service restaurant, or club licenses available.  In April, 15 applicants unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a full service restaurant license.  Cities have continuously declared that restaurants are a key plank of local economic development and “place-making” efforts in the community.  Additionally, the “monetization” policy implemented in 2011 would allow for current licensees to sell their license to a willing buyer.  The legislative intent was to empower a buyer to purchase a seller’s restaurant, property, and license at once.  However, since there are no current available licenses, the “monetization” policy essentially creates a secondary market and turns the license into a commodity.  The committee members expressed concern that the current quota scheme was not meeting the demand for restaurants around the state and that the “monetization” policy was not the original intent of the legislature.  The committee agreed to evaluate options for the quota system and the “monetization” policy and propose solutions during the June interim session.


Lately, many of you have asked us what the rising price of gasoline will do to your sales tax revenue forecast.  Using a few data points and simple assumptions, we can calculate the impact of a $1.00 increase in gasoline on our city 1% sales tax revenue on an annual basis (so a $0.50 increase would be half of the impact below) for a city whose population equals 100,000.

$1.00 gasoline price increase for a city of 100,000 people => ($ 449,531)

Since this is a population based estimate, if your population is 10% of 100,000 or 10,000, then the impact would be 10% of the ($449,531) loss or ($44,953).

A second possible way of estimating the impact is comparing today’s price to last year’s average.  Based on the average Salt Lake City gasoline price for the calendar year 2011 of $3.35, the current gasoline price last week of $3.63 was $0.285 higher so the impact would be ($128,116) loss in revenue if we compare to last year’s average (which swung from a high $3.65 in May to a low of $2.73 in January).

Monday, December 12 was the final Legislative Policy Committee meeting for 2011.  The agenda focused on transportation options, and included speakers from different levels of government.  Representatives from Senator Orrin Hatch’s office, Federal Transportation Administration, Utah State Legislature, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), Wasatch Front Regional Council, and the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) spoke on the financial reality facing transportation appropriations and what the lack of money could mean to Utah’s entire transportation infrastructure… Read More

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