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Construction on Provo's 500 West finally reaches end of road

Provo residents who drive up and down 500 West should be happy and relieved that the Utah Department of Transportation construction is finally done.

Officials with the city of Provo, UDOT and the Utah Transit Authority will mark the completion of the 500 West project with a “Walk-roll-bike-run” and tree-planting event at 9 a.m. Saturday at North Park, 500 West and 500 North.

The 500 West project not only replaces aging infrastructure and enhances safety, but makes important active transportation connections like a new 10-foot multi-use path, painted bike lane, upgraded sidewalks and improved school crossings.

The project caps off a joint effort between UDOT, UTA and Provo to build a series of improvements to U.S. Highway 89 totaling more than $80 million that began in 2013, according to Geoff Dupaix, UDOT representative. “Enhancements include: the Cougar Boulevard bike lane conversion, University Avenue/UVX Express line with UTA and the reconstruction of 300 South.”

Combined, these projects added new transit, bicycle and pedestrian options, improved safety and replaced aging infrastructure to provide Provo city residents more options and long-lasting roadways.

“By working closely with a community advisory group during project design, we were able to address some community safety concerns and incorporate public input for a better overall roadway,” said Nicole Martin, Provo Community Outreach director. “Based on that, we added several safety features including the active transportation amenities you see today.”

Those amenities include:

A 10-foot multi-use path on the east side.

Painted bicycle lanes.

Improved school crossing signals at 500 North and 300 South.

Upgraded lighting.

Bulb-outs at local street corners (700 North, 600 North, 400 North, and 200 South).

“We are pleased to continue coordinating with Provo City and UTA on future improvements in Provo City including the upcoming 300 South in 2023 and SR-189 Viaduct,” Dupaix said. “Together, we know that the more than $80 million invested in transportation choices in Provo over the last decade have improved our ability to help people get where they want to go.”

For basically a decade, UDOT, UTA and Provo City have been working closely together to improve the quality of life and transportation options across the city.

Speaking for all involved, Dupaix added, “We’re happy to see 500 West conclude. We know it was difficult during construction and we are glad to see how some of the additional features are making it an even more enjoyable place not just to drive, but to also walk, roll, ride or run.”

Dupaix reminds those attending the Saturday activity there will be ice cream handed out at the end of the formal festivities.

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Mayors discuss transportation, future of mobility in Utah County

Multiple mayors in Utah County discussed population growth, transportation and “the future of mobility” in the rapidly growing county on Wednesday during the 2021 Transportation Summit.

The summit, hosted by Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University, is “a collaborative effort to bring experts and stakeholders together to discuss the future of mobility in Utah County,” according to a description of the event.

“One of the goals of this summit is to bring all of the stakeholders together at one time, and identify a few key items for further collaboration,” said Saeed Moaveni, dean of UVU’s College of Engineering and Technology, who added that there are “a multitude of challenges resulting from the growth that Utah County is experiencing,” including “challenges dealing with transportation, air quality, water resources (and) housing.”

The summit, which took place at the UVU Noorda Center, included a panel discussion between Orem Mayor Richard Brunst, Vineyard Mayor Julie Fullmer, Lehi Mayor Mark Johnson and Provo Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Parker.

Brunst discussed the issues Orem has faced over the years with transportation, including securing funding to fix and maintain city roads.

“So while you look at the (transportation) projects and you think, ‘Well, these things just happen and they’re real easy,’ the reality is, they’re very, very hard. It’s very hard to get money, and it’s very hard to have a vision of the future for where you need to go,” he said.

Brunst also talked about transportation improvements he wants to see in central Utah County, including “better connectivity” between roads and more roads designed in a grid system.

“If we don’t build a grid system for the future, what’s going to happen is your transport time from Lehi to Provo is going to go from what it is now to double, in the future,” the Orem mayor said.

According to Parker, the central county has only had “relatively modest population growth,” which “has real implications for the ability to generate dollars to solve transportation issues.”

“Demand in the central county for transportation expansion is not getting any slower,” he said. “And, in fact, it’s growing way out of pace with the population growth in the central county.”

Speaking for north county, Johnson said officials “need to start planning farther ahead than we have before” and encouraged them to begin planning “40-50 years out.”

“This is a situation that is going to keep expanding, and we need to stay on top of it,” he said. “If you’re involved in transportation at any level, you need to be aware of not only the population growth, but the demographics, and how that population growth curve is going to occur.”

The Lehi mayor talked about the “bottleneck” between Utah County and Salt Lake County, the state’s two most populated counties, which he called “a very specific problem that is going to be hard to overcome.”

“The real problem is (that) the topography is not going to change,” said Johnson. “You have Camp Williams on the west, you have the low hills and Traverse Mountain on the east, and you have thousands of vehicles every day that have to work through this bottleneck.”

Fullmer discussed transportation plans for Vineyard, including eventually building a bridge across the middle of Utah Lake.

Like Johnson, she encouraged officials in cities dealing with rapid population growth to take a long-term approach to transportation planning.

“We’re small, but we’ve got great potential when it comes to transportation and growth,” the Vineyard mayor said. “As you’ve seen, we’ve kind of just been stacking up houses. And you really have an opportunity to mess up transportation and planning when you’re growing at 10,000%. And so what I always come back to is that you have to start looking regionally.”

The 2021 Transportation Summit also included a Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity panel discussing the role of the governor’s office “in attracting business to Utah County,” as well as panels discussing the future of urban air mobility and ground transportation in the county.

Numbers explain how and why West bakes, burns and dries out

The American West is baking, burning and drying in intertwined extreme weather. Four sets of numbers explain how bad it is now, while several others explain why it got this bad.

The West is going through “the trifecta of an epically dry year followed by incredible heat the last two months and now we have fires,” said University of California, Merced climate and fire scientist John Abatzoglou. “It is a story of cascading impacts.”

And one of climate change, the data shows.

Record heat

In the past 30 days, the country has set 585 all-time heat records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Of those, 349 are for daily high temperatures and 236 are the warmest overnight low temperatures, which are vital for people to recover from deadly heat waves.

And this doesn’t include Death Valley hitting 130 degrees preliminarily. If this is confirmed, it would be the hottest temperature on Earth in decades — and several meteorologists say it would be the hottest reliable temperature recorded because many don’t trust the accuracy of two hotter records.

A different part of Death Valley likely set the world record on July 11 for hottest 24-hour period by averaging the daily high and overnight low to come up with 118.1, according to meteorologist Maximiliano Herrera, who tracks weather extremes.

The average daily high temperature for the entire area from the Rockies and westward in June was 85.7 degrees, which beat the old record by 1.3 degrees, according to NOAA.

Severe drought

Nearly 60% of the U.S. West is considered in exceptional or extreme drought, the two highest categories, according to the University of Nebraska’s Drought Monitor. That’s the highest percentage in the 20 years the drought monitor has been keeping track. Less than 1% of the West is not in drought or considered abnormally dry, also a record.

Low soil moisture

How much moisture in the soil is key because normally part of the sun’s energy is used to evaporate moisture in the soil and plants. Also, when the soil and plants are dry, areas burn much more often and hotter in wildfires and the available water supply shrinks for places like California, a “true indicator of just how parched things are,” Abatzoglou said.

Both NOAA and NASA show soil moisture levels down to some of the lowest recorded levels for much of the West. Most of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Idaho are drier than in 99% of other years.

Wildfires burning

There are 68 active large fires burning, consuming 1,038,003 acres of land, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. With those fires and ones in Canada, there is “one large area of smoke over much of the U.S. and Canada,” NOAA said Tuesday.

So far this year, wildfires have burned 2.2 million acres, which is less than the 10-year average for this time of year. But that may change because dry plants are at extra high risk of burning in much of the West as shown in what experts call fire’s energy release component.

How we got here

“The heat wave story cannot be viewed as an isolated extreme event, but rather part of a longer story of climate change with more related, widespread and varying impacts,” said climate scientist Jennifer Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Center on Cape Cod.

Summers getting hotter

From 1991 to 2020, summers in the Rockies and westward have on average become 2.7 degrees warmer. The West is warming faster than the rest of the United States and the globe.

More heat domes from weaker jet stream

The weather phenomenon that is roasting the West now and that brought 116-degree temperatures to Portland, Oregon, at the end of June is often called a heat dome — where high pressure parks over an area and warm air sinks. This usually happens when the jet stream — the river of air that brings weather to places — gets stuck and doesn’t move storms along.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann found the number of times the jet stream stalls in the Northern Hemisphere is increasing from about six times a summer in the early 1980s to about eight times a summer now.

“We’ve shown climate change is making these stuck summer jet stream patterns more common,” Mann said.

Less rain

The West on average received 13.6 inches of snow and rain from July 2020 to June 2021. Over the last 10 years, the region has averaged a bit more than 19 inches of precipitation a year in the middle of what scientists call a megadrought. In the 1980s and 1990s, before the megadrought started, the West averaged nearly 22 inches of rain.

A 2020 study said “global warming has pushed what would have been a moderate drought in southwestern North America into megadrought territory.”

More wildfires

From 2011 to 2020, on average 7.5 million acres burned in wildfires each year. That’s more than double the average of 3.6 million acres a year from 1991 to 2000, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center.

It’s not just more acres burned, but more “very, very large fires,” said UC Merced’s Abatzoglou, noting that the combination of drought and heat means plants are more likely to burn and fires to get bigger.

“The drought we’ve had this year and the warm temperatures have allowed the fire season to come on hard and really, really early,” he said.

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Child tax credits should have immediate Utah County impact

On Thursday, families will start seeing money drift into their checking accounts as the Internal Revenue Service Child Tax Credit begins. It is a part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan President Joe Biden signed into law in March.

For family-heavy Provo and Orem that could mean some nice looking bank accounts through the end of the year when the program stops.

Qualifying households will be receiving $3,600 annually per child under age 6, and $3,000 per child between the ages of 6 and 17 years old. Monthly payments of $250 to $300 per child should be in the bank starting Thursday, according to the IRS.

That will continue until the end of December. The rest, or half, of the payments will be received after people file their 2021 tax return, according to the IRS. These payments are not considered income and are non-taxable.

So how will the child tax credit affect area residents when it comes to paying the bills?

According to the IRS, 90% of families with children are eligible for the tax credit. To show how much the tax credit will allow families to save doxoINSIGHTS, anonymized data from 5 million doxo users across 30,000-plus U.S. ZIP codes to show the average monthly bill cost for the top 10 bills in a family.

Those bills include the mortgage/rent, auto loans, auto insurance, utilities, health insurance, life insurance, cable/internet, mobile phones and security systems.

According to the doxoINSIGHTS database, the average cost for all of these bills in the Provo/Orem area is about $1,000 a month. Food, gasoline, entertainment, medical bills and more were not taken into consideration.

DoxoINSIGHTS leverages consumer surveys using its database comprised of bill payment activity. doxo’s payment network covers over 100,000 billers in 45 different service categories and enables payments using bank accounts, credit cards or debit cards.

Doxo data indicates the child tax credit money in the Provo/Orem area could do the following based on the average monthly bill payments in the area:

Pay the mortgage or rent for three months.

Auto loan for nine months.

Utilities for 11 months.

Auto insurance for 19 months.

Cable/internet for 31 months.

Health insurance for 32 months.

Mobile phone for 35 months.

Life insurance for 40 months.

Alarm/security systems for 41 months.

These figures, according to doxo and the IRS, could have significant influence on low-income families and minority groups in the area.

If you want to compare data with other regional areas or more specific data, visit http://doxo.com/insights/regional-bill-comparison.