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.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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