SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah’s population grew at 18.4 percent or 507,731 residents in the last ten years — the fastest rate in the nation.

The growth is having a substantial impact on our state with a housing shortage, increased traffic on major roadways, more pollution in the air, a heightened demand in resources, and more. Over the next week, we will explore how population growth affects different areas of our state, with a different theme each night for our IN FOCUS discussions that include agriculture/open lands, transportation, air quality, water/drought, and housing.

Researchers say most Utahns opt to drive instead of utilizing another method of transportation, mostly due to convenience. Time spent traveling leaves less time for spending with family, work productivity, and enjoyment. Experts know that allowing everyone to drive won’t be a sustainable option for the future and the growth in our state. If we were to endlessly expand roads, being further apart would mean more infrastructure and higher expenses.

Furthermore, transportation can be a significant expense for Utah families. Envision Utah found that an average of 30 percent of household income is spent on transportation, about $10,000 is spent on each car per year, and each family averages about two cars — which it says can be costly even for the median household income of $70,000. This ties in with the housing issue because the state is running out of land in the main valleys where all the jobs are. If we put all new housing outside of our developed valleys, transportation becomes very expensive for individuals and society.

For years now, Utah’s been looking at ways to provide more transportation options through methods like increased sidewalks, walking routes, bike lanes, expanded public transportation, scooters, shared mobility, and telecommuting. Stakeholders are also looking at land use as far as where homes, businesses, and other destinations are built. The closer the locations of where we work, eat, play, and live are, the less we’ll see of travel time, congestion, and driving.

Cody Lutz, planning project manager for Envision Utah joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion. He talked about the projected growth in Utah over the next 30 years, how much the average family spends on transportation, how that can pose a challenge financially, how Utahns view transportation and why they mostly opt for driving, what our transportation needs are as a state, how the auto industry’s shift to electric vehicles affect the way we think about transportation, and some of the solutions we can start pursuing to alleviate the impact of growth on our transportation.

Ralph Becker, former Mayor of Salt Lake City explained how transportation ties to community development and goals for reducing air pollution and our carbon footprint, how traffic congestion can be reduced through transportation investment and decisions with the growth Utah faces, how transit use affects community development to optimize strong community cohesion, and what changes in transportation investment will be necessary if we want healthy and attractive communities and lifestyles.

Andrew Gruber, executive director for the Wasatch Front Regional Council discussed what his organization does, the plans the council has implemented, how the council thinks about transportation, how it centers its approach, where the state succeeds and fails in transportation, the challenges around being a car-centric state, whether we can stay that way, and what the future of transportation looks like for Utah.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Lutz, Becker, and Gruber, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.