Improving Transportation: Vineyard, UT

Improving Transportation: Vineyard, Utah

Courtney Evans, Kailey Neafus, Shayne Tillman

Utah Valley University

Introduction

Vineyard, UT is a rapidly growing residential city that began its major growth in 2015. While the city is constantly developing, the overall demographics, and their governmental makeup of a mayor-council structure have remained largely unchanged. The newly established city does not have a newspaper, which pales in comparison to the problems surrounding the city’s economic development, environmental concerns, and their underutilized Parks and Recreation Department.

Vineyard is a residential city with an estimated population of 10,052. 94.8% of those residents are white. From 2017 to 2018, the population increased 62.79% and that upward trend shows no signs of slowing down. There are currently 8 undeveloped zones for residential, single family, and high-density housing in the Vineyard area (City of Vineyard, 2019).  As of 2017, there were 948 households in the city, with an average size of 3.52 people per household. Household members over 25 are likely to have a bachelor or postgraduate degree and earn a mean income of $45,941 per year. This number rises to $75-$100 K for families (City of Vineyard, 2019).

Vineyard is a small city, which is still growing, so at the current time, they have a mayor-council structure. This means the Mayor acts as a CEO and is in charge of approving legislation that the city council formulates. The Mayor can be a driving force for legislation in this type of structure. The current Mayor is Julie Fullmer, serving her first term until December 31, 2021. There are four city council members: Tyce Flake, Nathan Riley, Chris Judd, and John Earnest.

 

 

The Problem

Vineyard is rapidly growing residentially but appears to be having a difficult time expanding and growing economic development within the city mostly due to transportation issues. Although a rail line and bus station are under construction, Vineyard currently lacks accessible forms of transportation (City of Vineyard, 2019). This lack of transportation decreases the likelihood of business growth due to a deficiency in customers. Without a certain amount of business revenue, Vineyard will lack the funding for infrastructure in order to accommodate their projected 9,900% population increase over the next 30 years.

The issue of providing adequate transportation in Vineyard has existed since the boom of residential development in the early 2010s and affects the entire city. The issue worsened in 2016 when Vineyard was declared a city (due to a higher population) and no longer a town. If effective action is not taken to improve transportation, it will remain a major issue for Vineyard residents.

The Causes

In 2010 when Vineyard only had 150 residents, the then town planner of Vineyard, Jennifer Robinson acknowledged that implementing transit-oriented options could be a catalyst for Vineyard’s development (Israelsen, 2010). At the time, UTA officials brought forth the idea of a transportation hub in Vineyard to try and reduce congestion on I-15. While plans such as TransPlan50 have been implemented to improve transportation options, the rate of change is zero because the city’s population has increased, yet public transportation within Vineyard looks the same as it did ten years ago.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Vineyard is the fastest growing city in the country with an estimated population of 10,052. The lack of public transportation will become more problematic as the population increases. Between 2017 and 2018, Vineyard saw a 62.79% growth with no signs of slowing down (Hanson and Johnson, 2019). Vineyard’s city website currently shows 8 undeveloped areas zoned for residential, single family, and high-density housing in the Vineyard area. “Studies have shown that traffic congestion is the number one concern of individuals in rapidly growing areas in the U.S., often ranked higher than crime, school overcrowding, and housing shortages” (Morrison and Lin Lawell, 2016).

Figure 1. Population Growth in Vineyard, Utah (USCB, 2019)

Who is Impacted?

Residents, students, and businesses are all impacted by the lack of transportation options. Additionally, those who live nearby in Orem are also impacted due to Vineyard’s roads emptying out onto one of Orem’s busiest roads, Geneva. This road, as well as I-15, and University Parkway, must be used in order to leave Vineyard’s city limits. The congestion these roadways experience will continue to worsen as Vineyard’s population increases.

Additionally, given how close the location is to Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University, high density housing likely has and will attract students. Currently, UTA is partnered with local universities to offer free public transportation to students. Students who live in the area are currently unable to take advantage of that offer. Lastly, Utah Valley University plans to expand their campus by building in the northern end of Vineyard. At the moment, the only way to reach this future part of campus is by driving, walking, or biking a significant distance.

Businesses, and Vineyard’s economy, are likely to continue to suffer while public transportation is slowly being expanded in the area. “Companies that are moving to the suburbs are finding locations where their talent can commute via public transit” (Schaper, 2018). There is currently a shopping complex located in Vineyard, Utah that contains a movie theater, an ice cream shop, and two restaurants that will continue to develop over the next few years. At the moment, the only way to arrive at these businesses is to drive or walk 2.3 miles from the nearest bus stop.

The UTA website shows that Vineyard currently has zero bus stops within the city limits. The closest bus stops nearby in Orem do not have park and rides or ample parking lots that could account for those with cars. For those without cars, walking or biking are the only options. It is a 1.6 mile, or 32-minute walk from Vineyard City Hall to the nearest bus stop on Geneva Road in Orem, Utah. Add in additional factors like thirty-degree weather and snowy conditions, people without cars are going to be unable or unlikely to make that walk.

How to Measure the Problem

There are many ways to measure these transportation issues. We can look at average commute times, average traffic congestion within the city of Vineyard, how many cars pass through the city limits each day and especially during peak hours, and measure how much demand for parking is present in Vineyard (Schrank, 2019).  With the rise of population, we have an increased number of automobiles on the public roads, creating more traffic congestion. The Texas Transportation Institute published a report showing the relationship between higher population and travel times (Schrank, 2019). We are a commuting state, and vineyard is no exception to the rule. Vineyard currently has no large businesses but has a largely upper-middle class population. This means most of the population has to commute.

Figure 2. City Size and Roadway Congestion Index, United States 1982-2017 (Schrank, 2019)

Utah Transit Authority will be branching into Vineyard. The city is not large enough to justify creating their own public transportation system, but Vineyard can influence the use of public transportation. Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has published all of their financial records and yearly reports on their site. This is the most beneficial resource in determining how public transportation will affect Vineyard financially.

To determine the reduction of traffic congestion, we need to look no further than Los Angeles. Public transportation was proven to decrease traffic congestion, but only on roads that paralleled the transportation corridors (Jaffe, 2013) (Anderson, 2013). This works for Vineyard, as Utah is based on a linear model, with all major roads next to each other. This might be the best indicator we can use to determine the decongestion benefit.

Current Measures Being Taken

Although Vineyard continues to maintain rapid population growth, the transportation issue is expected to improve over the next decade. Vineyard is participating in Utah County’s transportation plan known as TransPlan50 (Mountainland Maps, n.d). The objective of TransPlan50 is to effectively accommodate the rapid population growth of Utah County through urbanization and creating new routes of transportation for Utah County. TransPlan50 is divided into four phases that each last ten years. The project is set to be completed by 2050. The first phase of TransPlan50 began in 2019 and includes the construction of the Vineyard Connector, which is currently underway.

Vineyard Mayor, Julie Fullmer, has been an active player in raising funds to improve/increase transportation in her city (Pugmire, 2019). In June 2019, the city received a federal grant to use toward the construction of a Vineyard Frontrunner station. Mayor Fullmer has also had success in securing local and state funds to use toward other Vineyard transportation ventures. With all the plans for increased transportation, Vineyard should begin to see an improvement in transportation by the end of 2020 and significant improvement over the next decade.

In 2013, the Utah Transit Authority reported that 65% of its revenue came from sales tax collections (Utah, 2014). This is a concern. The public is funding transportation, and it is not able to sustain itself on ticket sales alone. If we look at the costs associated with introducing public transportation, most public transportation is a failing venture. Vineyard has the opportunity to create a transportation hub to reduce traffic congestion due to commuting. Being a brand-new city, they should be able to put a large emphasis on using public transportation.

Similarly, nearby Saratoga Springs also saw rapid growth in a short period of time just like Vineyard. “Over the next 5 years [their] population is projected to jump from 30,000 residents to 40,000 residents and from 30,000 to 50,000 in the next 10 years – a 66 percent increase” (Saratoga Springs Demographics, n.d.). From 2010 to 2015, they saw a 76.2% increase. They also have a large concentration of single family, residential, and high-density housing. Unlike Vineyard, Saratoga Springs has implemented modes of public transportation to reduce possible congestion, expanded roads such as the Pony Express Parkway with multiple lanes and higher speed limits. Lastly, there are currently three bus stops near Saratoga Springs, including a church park and ride that transports residents to the frontrunner station located in Lehi, Utah.

 

 

Policy Option #1: Intermodal Transportation Hub

Back in 2010, when Vineyard only had 150 residents, the idea of an intermodal transportation hub was suggested in order to reduce traffic congestion in the area. Nine years later, and that exact idea is a promoted solution to Vineyard’s transportation woes. The Vineyard Commuter Rail Station is currently in the planning stages. It was originally slated for completion in December of 2019. However, minutes from city meetings show that construction has not even started yet. Once completed, the hope is that it will reduce traffic on nearby roads for residents and commuters. “Studies have shown that traffic congestion is the number one concern of individuals in rapidly growing areas in the U.S., often ranked higher than crime, school overcrowding, and housing shortages” (Morrison and Lin Lawell, 2016). All stakeholders promoting the construction of the intermodal hub believe it will make the roads nearby safer, invite new retail and business to the area, enhance pedestrian walkways, make the area clean and beautiful, and provide commuters with better transportation options. Stakeholder, and Mayor of Vineyard Julie Fullmer said, “Vineyard FrontRunner Station is going to breathe life into UVU’s Master Campus, and Vineyard’s Town Center. The first designs have just been sent out for review by the stakeholders and City Council. It will include multimodal transit connectivity for pedestrians, bikers, cars, buses, shuttles, autonomous vehicles, and more to use the FrontRunner and eventually light rail” (, 2018).

According to USA Data, Vineyard has 1.47k employees who work in professions outside of the home (Vineyard, UT, 2017). The construction of the FrontRunner station will likely mean that a portion of those 1.47k employees will no longer drive to work. The FrontRunner provides an environmentally friendly, cost affordable option, that would reduce traffic on the nearby roadways.

Sadly, the construction of the intermodal station is not a cost affordable option. It required extensive government action. A substantial portion of the funding was provided by the United States Department of Transportation. In June, Vineyard received a $6.8 million grant, which made moving forward with the project possible (Pugmire, 2019). Overall, the project will cost close to $18 million (Mountainland, n.d.). The rest of the funding comes from local and state funds.

While the construction and funding of the project requires government action, they cannot force people to use it. Stakeholders hope that the population will be willing to make changes in their personal lifestyle in order to reduce traffic in the area. If the majority of the citizens decide that they prefer their cars, then the government backed solution will not succeed.

The impact the intermodal station has on decreasing traffic in the area and providing different means of transportation is still unknown. With that said, any implementation of public transportation is an improvement for the city. After completion of the project, data can be gathered to determine if the Vineyard FrontRunner station accomplishes its goals.

Policy Option #2: Creating Walkable & Bikeable Communities

Decreasing traffic flow and increasing public transportation is largely influenced by the city’s planning for other modes of transportation. The Federal Highway Administration is the main agency pushing this policy option. The 2019 Urban Mobility Scorecard lists the cost of congestion for the United States in 2014 at $160 billion US Dollars (Schrank, 2019) with the American Public Health Association listing an additional $387 billion spent on obesity, health costs related to air pollution from traffic, and the cost of traffic crashes (APHA, 2010). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a guide on reducing this cost by creating a walkable and bikeable community in cities. The study completed by the HUD states “The feasibility of walking and cycling is as much determined by the presence of bike and pedestrian facilities as it is about the proximity of critical destinations to where people live.” (HUD, 2016) To implement policies that support pedestrian and bicycle planning the focus needs to shift from planning for all modes of transportation and work more towards on satisfying the needs of all users.

The Federal Highway Administration has collected case studies to create safe, comfortable, and connected pedestrian and bicycle networks. Connected networks enable all types of cycling and walking trips, including commuting, traveling to schools, transit connections, local parks, recreation, gyms, and everyday trips like groceries, health care, etc. (FWHA, 2015). Along with connected networks, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation preaches implementation of Vision Zero programs (PBIC, 2016). These programs were born in 1997 in Sweden. They are designed to manage kinetic energy in traffic systems to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

A good example of this is the City of Austin, Texas. Their plan, Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which has now been adopted into their more comprehensive Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, was implemented after studying where fatalities and injury accidents between automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians occurred. They then used that data combined with demographics and realized that many areas with the highest amount of accidents per capita either had no sidewalks or were in dire need of sidewalk maintenance. After mapping out the entire city streets with crash scores, they found the areas they needed to focus on first. They are currently implementing new sidewalks and safer crossings (City of Austin, 2018).

Figure 3. Creating Walkable and Bikeable Communities – Street Example (HUD, 2018)

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has a supplemental program to increase the mobility of citizens in communities of safe, connected cycling/walking communities. It is called the NACTO Bike Share and Shared Mobility Initiative. Its mission is to build cities into “places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life.” (NACTO, 2019) They have released their 2018 report showing that 84 million trips were taken in 2018 nationwide across cities with bike/scooter share programs in place. This is another piece to the puzzle of creating a walkable & bikeable community.

Vineyard is having a population explosion and has had to accelerate the timeline on their town center that was projected to commence for 10-15 years from now (Pugmire, 2018).  This means that infrastructure is constantly being built. Vineyard is currently building a UTA Frontrunner station at the north end of their town, but still need to consider their first mile and last-mile modes of transportation. Vineyard’s master plan shows a large amount of residential homes. Being a smaller city, Vineyard has the opportunity to create a community of walking and bicycling citizens. This not only increases the overall health of the city, but also decreases the amount of public funds spent on infrastructure maintenance (HUD, 2016).

Implementing connected networks of safe roads & trails while also including shared micro-mobility programs is highly equitable as it provides the same benefit to all citizens regardless of economic or social status. Politically, it is quite feasible. There are funding programs in place already through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. HUD provides Community Development Block Grant Programs, and the League of American Bicyclists can provide a Bicycle Friendly Community/Neighborhood Designation to increase interest in relocation to Vineyard. The shared micro-mobility programs can be outsourced to private companies, driving up tax revenue. Although this policy/program mainly relies on government action, it also requires a shift in citizen lifestyles, which the city can influence by building out a connected network into their infrastructure. By focusing on alternative means of transportation, we can reduce the annual costs towards citizens and cities (HUD, 2018).

Policy Option #3: TransPlan50

In order to effectively accommodate the rapid population growth and urbanization of Utah County, Mountainland Association of Governments created a plan to alleviate the lack of accessible transportation (Mountainland, n.d). Mountainland Association of Governments serves the Utah counties of Summit, Wasatch, and Utah. Mountainland acts as an entity that assists in fulfilling regional goals of helping the communities to improve the area, advocating for local issues and concerns, linking those in need with the appropriate funding and services, and solving issues and mediating disputes between communities (Mountainland, n.d). The transportation issues occurring in Vineyard (and the rest of Utah County) have been a concern of Mountainland Association of Governments and a factor in developing a plan to address and resolve the transportation issues. In 2019, Mountainland announced the launch of a regional transportation plan known as TransPlan50.

There are five main objectives of TransPlan50: “1) Update the current regional road system to a metropolitan grid-based network. 2) Explore additional freeways and add capacity. 3) Create a robust transit system. 4) Build a regionally connected active transportation system. 5) Preserve what we have.” (Mountainland, n.d). TransPlan50 has been divided into four phases, with each phase lasting ten years. Phases one-three consist of official construction plans. The first phase began in 2019 and the third phase will reach completion by 2050. The fourth and final phase of TransPlan50 is a compilation of potential transportation projects for the future. None of the proposed projects in the fourth phase have an official plan in place.

Although the active construction of the TransPlan50 projects are creating traffic delays, the ultimate outcome is expected to greatly improve current and future transportation conditions throughout Utah County. If the appropriate changes in transportation are not made to accommodate the growing population, traffic delays will escalate to a high level of unmanageability. Residents of Utah County will also encounter difficulty and inefficiency when driving vehicles or other modes of transportation (such as a bicycle) and when using public transportation. If consumers struggle to transport themselves around their community, local businesses may end up seeing a decrease in their profit. The lack of accessible public transportation and routes of transportation could potentially lead to a decline in the local economy. Depending on the severity of the transportation conditions, local residents may decide to move elsewhere. Local residents may also end up viewing the local and state government as apathetic and ineffective, which would negatively impact political leaders of the area.

The solutions that TransPlan50 projects provide will require government action, especially in regard to financing. The funding for TransPlan50 is being acquired from numerous sources. Some of the financial sources include private funding, federal funding, state funding, and local funding. In 2019, the creation of the Transit Transportation Investment Fund was authorized by the Utah Legislature and will be a source of funding for TransPlan50 (Mountainland, n.d). The Transit Transportation Investment Fund was updated from a previous fund to include financing for transit, as well as highways. An increase in auto related taxes and vehicle registration fees will occur over the next two decades (Mountainland, n.d). The auto related taxes and vehicle registration fees will steadily increase annually in order to contribute to the financing of TransPlan50.

Vineyard Mayor, Julie Fullmer, has been an active participant in raising funds to improve and increase transportation in her city (Pugmire, 2019). Mayor Fullmer has also had success in securing local, state, and federal funds to use toward transportation improvements in Vineyard. Mayor Fullmer has a clear and realistic understanding of the transportation issues that her city faces, which is why she continues to be a supporter and advocate of TransPlan50. TransPlan50 is generally accepted by most Utah residents and government officials as a plan that will positively impact Utah’s future.

Policy Recommendation

The best option that is in Vineyard’s control would be to create a walkable and bikeable community. They still have enough open space to enact this policy without having to increase costs by redoing current infrastructure. This option would be the most equitable, allowing residents of all income class to have access to first and last mile transportation. TransPlan50 is already in place as well as increasing Utah Transit Authority integration. By creating a walkable & bikeable community, traffic congestion would decrease along main roads, making Vineyard a safer place to be a pedestrian. We believe this would also allow further economic stimulation by inviting small businesses into the community along walking and bicycling paths. This policy is highly efficient, can be very effective if implemented well, and would generally be very politically feasible.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has stated the following: “Research shows that trails have the potential to create jobs, expand local businesses, and enhance property values. Shortly after its com­pletion in 2012, the $62.5 million Indianapolis Cul­tural Trail, a multipurpose trail in urban Indianap­olis, generated 11,000 jobs, as well as $863 million through construction, private-sector investment, and increased tourism. The project also increased property values by $45 million. The 150,000 annu­al visitors to the Little Miami Scenic Trail in Ohio spend an average of $13.54 per visit on food, bev­erages, and transportation to the trail. They also spend an estimated $277 each year on clothing, equipment, and accessories during these trips. In Apex, North Carolina, developers added a $5,000 premium to homes adjacent to a regional greenway, and those homes were still the first to sell. These are just a few of many examples that document the economic benefit of active transportation facilities” (HUD, 2018). Because of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development statements and research, we cannot recommend this policy option enough to a growing city.

 

 

Conclusion

            Vineyard will continue to grow at a wild pace and will need to better their alternative transportation methods in order to control congestion and keep their community safe. However, we understand the city does not have a lot of room to grow or create tax revenue. Vineyard has other priorities they need to address, such as maintaining relationships for their public utilities, police force, fire department, etc. While we believe that implementing the policy options outlined in this paper will help Vineyard better their city and make it more equitable, we also know that it is a lower priority issue. However, we believe we have shown that by building a community that is equitable in modes of transportation, Vineyard will be an example to other cities on how to create a thought-out community. This policy option would also help grow the city even more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

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Published by sjtillman

I have ADHD and Anxiety, the perfect match made in heaven. I am a proud father and husband. I work too much, travel too little, but try to backpack and hike as much as possible. I do a lot of research and have too many thoughts in my mind.

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