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With Trump's Infrastructure Plans Still Fuzzy, Utah Charts Its Own Path

A map of the Mountain View Corridor initial construction. The road project was one of many submitted to President Trump's transition team as it compiled a list of job-ready infrastructure projects already partially funded and approved.

During the campaign, President Trump called for $1 trillion to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and highways. The proposal he debuted this week — which the White House dubbed infrastructure week — falls well short of that, pledging just $200 billion in federal spending over 10 years.

But many states, including Utah, aren’t waiting around for Congress or the White House to act on overhauling the country’s aging infrastructure.

“Anything we get would be great, but I’m not really hanging on the edge of my seat and hoping for this," said Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation.

“If it doesn’t happen, will the world end? No, things are great in Utah,” he said.

Braceras said between a $1 billion bond approved by the state legislature in March and additional funds from an automatic gas tax adjustment, Utah has prioritized self-sufficiency in its infrastructure planning.

It’s a good thing, too, because Congress hasn’t raised the federal gas tax, not even for inflation, since 1993. And Trump’s own budget proposal last month included a 12 percent cut to existing transportation programs. 

Braceras said if anything does come from Washington, it will likely be a one-time infusion. At a minimum, he hopes the federal government maintains the level of funding they’re at now, about $300 million a year.  

“We get back about what we send to Washington," said Braceras. "If they can continue to do that, we’re in good shape because it makes up about 21-22 percent of our overall funding.”

UDOT passed on a few long-term projects in the early days of the Trump presidency as part of a 50-state blueprint created for the president’s transition team, but so far nothing has come from it.

There are definite needs in the state, like full rebuilds of I-15 in Weber and Davis counties, as well as extending the Mountain View corridor. But, Braceras said, the fact that the president is at least starting a discussion on infrastructure is a good thing. 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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