Aug 1, 2022 - Politics

Millions of dollars coming to protect Utah roads, bridges from climate change

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaking behind a podium.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox. Courtesy of the Utah State Office of the Governor.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Gov. Spencer Cox announced a $7.3 billion federal program on Friday. It's aimed at refining the nation's transportation infrastructure to withstand extreme weather.

Details: The official name is Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Formula Program. It is a first-of-its-kind initiative under the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration.

  • It seeks to improve bridges, roads, waterways and public transit against wildfires, floods and heat waves.
  • The funding will also be used to upgrade evacuation routes, at-risk highway infrastructure and resilience planning to prepare for natural disasters.

Why it matters: In recent years, Utah has faced an ongoing drought, wildfires, flooding and the drying of the Great Salt Lake.

What they're saying: "Transportation is not just put at risk by climate change. It's also the biggest contributor to climate change, which means that transportation should aspire to be the biggest part of the solution," Buttigieg said in front of the Utah Capitol Friday.

The bottom line: Utah will receive up to $65 million to improve the state's transportation infrastructure over the next five years.

  • The state will receive $12 million in fiscal year 2022, which spans from October 2022 to September 2023.

Zoom out: Americans have already witnessed how climate change has impacted transportation infrastructure.

  • Last month, a heat wave caused a Bay Area train to derail when the track surpassed 140 degrees. About 50 people were evacuated, some with minor injuries.
  • Zoom in: The Parleys Canyon Fire last year caused power outages and prompted Utahns in Summit County to evacuate. It also led to the partial closure of I-80 in Parleys Canyon, a major economic travel corridor.

Of note: Later in the day, Buttigieg met with Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and first responders to discuss their infrastructure needs.

What's next: Cox said his administration will work with UDOT to decide which projects to prioritize.

  • He noted areas with burn scars from wildfires were a high priority, including Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, which are at risk for road closures due to rock slides and avalanches.
  • "We're investing in these projects every year anyway," he said. "So, this is just an influx that will help us with our current plans and, hopefully, free up some money for some other important infrastructure investments."
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