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Sec. Buttigieg, Gov. Cox unveil $7.3B program to guard roads against climate extremes

Gov. Spencer Cox, Sec. Pete Buttigieg, Utah State Capitol, July 29, 2022
Saige Miller
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks in front of the Utah State Capitol alongside U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, July 29, 2022.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg stood beside Gov. Spencer Cox in front of the Utah State Capitol building Friday to unveil a federal plan that will give the state millions of dollars over five years to invest in severe weather infrastructure.

Under the bright sun, Buttigieg said the PROTECT Program will divvy up $7.3 billion between all 50 states to help mitigate the damages caused by events like floods and fires.

“Residents here [Utah] have been seeing the results of extreme weather with their own eyes,” Buttigieg said, pointing to burn scars left behind by big wildfires such as the 2017 Brian Head Fire.

Cox said a chunk of that money will be used to prevent severe flooding caused by burn scars from wildfires throughout the state. Another priority, the governor said, will be used to improve canyon roadways.

“When we have snowpack that melts very quickly, we'll have rockslides and we will have avalanches as well,” Cox said. “This is money that we can use to help prevent those things, or at least to keep the roads open when those disasters happen.”

Cox said one project the state is exploring is to enlarge culverts and make deeper ditches in burn areas to capture flood water before it makes it to the roadways.

Cox emphasized the money will allow the Utah Department of Transportation and local governments the ability to upgrade infrastructure without sacrificing other needs. The PROTECT Program money can only be used to work on new infrastructure plans, not existing ones.

“We've got to be prepared,” Cox said. “The PROTECT Program will help us prepare for natural disasters and give us the ability to think long term.”

Cox said Utah plans to complete projects every year once the federal funds start rolling in.

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