Friday, November 14, 2008

Transportation Update

Investment in Transportation and Transit Will Bring Rewards

Today's informative update is reproduced with permission of the author, Mary Street, Commerce CRG. It was published in The Salt Lake Enterprise, October 20, 2008 edition.

Utah County is about to become the recipient of major transit and transportation projects that will likely provide a significant boost to employment, the commercial real estate industry and the overall local economy.

Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and Utah Transit Authority (UTA) projects under way, or on the drawing board, in Utah County have a total price tag of more than $4 Billion. Andrew Jackson, Director of Planning at Mountainland Association of Governments states "these projects are an immediate shot in the arm. The life-blood of our economy is access. The effect of improving our transportation systems, building our infrastructure, and putting people to work will cause ripples throughout our entire local economy."

UDOT has two major Utah County initiatives underway. Access Utah County, an $800 million project which will begin construction late in 2008 consisting of four significant road projects designed to alleviate congestion and provide alternate routes throughout the county, and I-15 CORE, which is the total reconstruction of I-15 from American Fork to Highway 6 in Spanish Fork.

Access Utah County includes construction of two new transportation corridors. The first, Pioneer Crossing, is a new east-west connector from the American Fork Main Street I-15 interchange to Redwood Road in Saratoga Springs and will include the complete reconstruction of the American Fork Main Street I-15 interchange. Beginning construction in late 2008, this four-lane road will improve connectivity and reduce congestion along Lehi’s Main Street. This project will cause the need for relocation of several businesses adjacent to the interchange and along the new connector.

Simultaneous to the Pioneer Crossing construction, UDOT will begin construction of The Vineyard Connector, a new four-lane, limited access road west of I-15 connecting Pioneer Crossing in American Fork with 800 North in Orem. The Vineyard Connector, slated for completion in 2010, will be a crucial new alternate route for north Utah County commuters.

I-15 CORE, a $2.6 Billion project funded by Utah lawmakers during the 2008 legislative session, is the largest federal highway project funded and moving forward in the country. The project includes rebuilding 11 I-15 interchanges and 15 bridges. This project is currently in the project development stage with construction slated to begin in 2010 and reach completion in 2014.

In addition to the UDOT projects, UTA has announced Frontlines South, an extension of their successful commuter rail project. This project will provide another alternative for Utah County commuters, helping to alleviate congestion on I-15. Frontlines South will extend the Frontrunner commuter rail service from downtown Salt Lake City to Provo. Frontrunner is a high-speed diesel passenger train that will run every 30 minutes during weekday business hours traveling at speeds approaching 80 miles per hour. Initial plans call for eight stations on the line, with the possible addition of two more stations in the future. UTA will finalize station locations and lay-outs during the course of construction and hopes to begin service as early as 2013. By the time Frontlines South is completed the project value may reach $1.0 billion.

These UDOT and UTA projects could soon give a "shot in the arm" to the local economy and to the commercial real estate market in Utah County as well. These projects will require land acquisition for road construction and landowners selling land for these projects would do well to reinvest in real estate. In addition, these projects will require a number of area businesses to relocate.

With commercial real estate sales and leasing softening during the past 9 months, business relocation and land sales could create a new spark in the industry. Acquisitions and relocations are just beginning in North Utah County and will continue for several years as these projects proceed. During the past month, independent UDOT contractors have been arriving in Utah County from around the country, seeking office space and ramping up staff for the massive right-of-way acquisition process.

The forward thinking and planning of such transportation projects is having a positive impact on the local economy. Provo, for example, just landed a major new employer, Duncan Aviation, projected to bring 650 new jobs to the area. The company plans to build a $58 million, 320,000 square-foot facility near the Provo Municipal airport starting spring 2009. Citing transportation needs and access to western markets as a major factor in the site selection, company officials also noted that land use planning in Provo played an important role in their choice of cities.

Investment in our state’s transportation infrastructure and quality growth planning are bringing economic dividends to the state in a time when uncertainty abounds.

Mary Street is a land and investment specialist with Commerce CRG working in the Provo/Orem office. Mary is currently the vice chair of the Orem City Planning Commission.


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