I had the opportunity to serve for two years on the Utah Transit Authority Board of Directors before the Utah State Legislature put a kaibosh on a Board of any kind and turned over the major decisions to a few people appointed by the Governor. It was a fast and fascinating education about mass transit in our state-what we had at the time and what was being planned. I grew mad respect for the bus drivers of those vehicles used for special differently abled riders and TRAX drivers who have to hit a button every 15 seconds to ensure they are alert and not having medical issues in driving the light rail trains. Most of my fellow directors were mayors of cities serviced by Utah and several like me were in favor of free mass transit for all.  There is a free zone in the downtown area that is poorly advertised for TRAX and buses, but generally riders pay $2.50 to jump on a bus or TRAX.

Albuquerque, NM just because one of the largest cities in the U.S. to pilot a zero fare program for 12 months. They recognize that most riders are low income travelers and although it only cost $1.00 to ride a bus, that fee made an impact on thin wallets. Who’s picking up the bill? The Fed, of course will throw most of the monies at this for a year. This Zero Fare program is going to put this western city on the road to reducing traffic and pollution and move them in the right direction for an equitable public transportation system. It should also help promote healthy lifestyles and boost ridership throughout the system.  Some detractors think that crime on the system will increase but the City Council is committed that this is really going to help their city. Not spending money on transportation allows people to spend more on rent, food and utilities.

As Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Front grows the argument to woo Utahns away from their cars is valid in reducing our awful inversions. Now that our ski resorts have a great snow pack the parking lots could be a lot emptier with regular free bus service.  We are going to be getting a great deal of funds from the Feds here this year for infrastructure improvements and some transportation costs, and our legislature has the tools to put UTA on a free fare track virtually anytime they want.

It’s about time the free fare zone downtown is expanded to the entire UTA system. Just recently if you show your airline boarding pass you can hop on TRAX or a bus to ride to the airport free of charge. Sometimes they instigate a ‘free fare day’ when the air is too thick to breathe, but this needs, in my opinion, to be 365 days a year. Mayor Wilson said a few years ago that “There isn’t a person in the county who doesn’t understand the importance of clean air.” Well, it’s time!  Good luck Albuquerque-I hope we’re the next experiment!

So High!

As we like to say in real estate sales, “They ain’t building any more land!”  Dirt that you can build on is a precious commodity in all our major cities in Utah right now, so the next best frontier is to build UP.  I always thought that if I moved back to New York I would want to sell ‘air space’…the air above buildings.  I could sell airspace in Utah, but for now it’s not a common commodity…yet.

When you buy a piece of land or a home, you own all the way to the center of the earth and all the way above the earth’s surface. You have the right to develop up or down without interference by others unless there is a water, mineral, air traffic right or utility easement blocking your way. “Whoever owns the soil, it’s theirs up to Heaven and down to Hell” became common law in the 13th century. I remember back in 2005 when a small church in NYC sold its vertical development rights for $430 per sq. ft. so a high rise could be built above it. They walked with $30 million, and the church and the high rise co-exist.

Developers in our capitol city just broke ground on Astra (Latin for star) Tower on the northwest corner of 200 South and State Street where the recent Carls Jr. stood. It will be the tallest building in Utah when completed in 2025 at 450’ above the street.  This will beat out the Wells Fargo Center at 422’, the LDS Church Office building at 420’and Tower 8 of City Creek (95 State Street) at 395’.  Technically there are no height restrictions to buildings in Salt Lake or New York City for that matter. One World Trade Center in NYC which replaced the World Trade Center towers is 1176’ above sea level, Central Park Tower is 1550’ and the new ‘basket’ at 30 Hudson Yards is 1270’.

Oldtimers in Utah will wax on that “No building can be taller than the LDS Church Office building”, but that my friends, is a myth. For many years the COB was indeed the tallest structure in Salt Lake City and it actually looks taller because it’s sitting on a hill leading up to the State Capitol Building. As we built up our capitol city for the 2002 Olympics we found from our city planners that building height restrictions downtown was a myth, and the Church proved that when they built the high rise condominiums at City Creek just in time for the games.

Astra is not going to be affordable housing. Indeed, it will be 372 luxury apartments for rent. There will be 40,000 sq. ft. of communal amenities including an elevated urban park on top of the 7-level parking structure (similar to Salesforce Tower in San Francisco…which is now badly leaning!), clubhouse with a chef’s kitchen, pool on the 22nd floor, a roof terrace and 24-hour concierge service. They will also seek the highest level (Gold Certification) for green building.

Salty Roads

We’ve had a few good storms this year, enough that UDOT has brought out the plows to scape our streets in our northern cities in the state. With the plows comes a mix of salt and dirt treated with magnesium and calcium to spread on the roads to make it safer for Utahn’s to drive. Yet each time they coat the roads a little more salt gets into our drainage system and ends up washing into the Great Salt Lake, ponds, wells, and streams.

UDOT has used salt up until 1997 when they added a brine solution, which is carried in tankers and laid down before a big storm hits. When the snow does fly whatever water comes down mixed with the salty water on the road to create a surface layer that helps break down the ice. By doing this treatment UDOT saves on salt costs. The Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies in New York has found that salt use has in the U.S. has tripled in the past 50 years and that more than 20 million metric tons of salt are poured on the country’s roads each year. The New York Dept. of Transportation also uses brine, and with some of the storms they’ve been pounded with this winter, they need a lot of it. They found that brine treatment takes about four times less salt to prevent ice from building up on their roads, that brine is more cost-effect than just salt, better for the environment and was less damaging to the roads.

UDOT purchases is salt through various contracts and their station managers try and predict how much they will need for roads in their neck of the woods. They must try and guess mother nature in the fall. Salt is stored at over 100 maintenance facilities and storage areas around the state where snow falls enough to need salty roads. You may have driven by some of these sheds along our highways. The mined salt must be covered because wet salt will soon reform with a hard crust that’s difficult to break up. Most of the rock salt UDOT buys comes from an underground mine in Central Utah, but we do get solar salt extracted from the Great Salt Lake. Each UDOT manager in the state must figure out what’s the best mix of ingredients for their roads to keep safe for travelers.

Back at home know that throwing down salt on your sidewalks, driveways and front steps is bad for animals and dogs. Plain old salt is deadly for dogs to ingest and can simply irritate their paws. Luckily nowadays there are alternatives to salt and chemical deicers that are pet-friendly but can be expensive. You can always use cheap kitty litter or sand to lay down on slick surfaces to stop falls. Read the label before you buy-make sure your product is pet-safe, salt and chloride free. If it’s labeled kid-friendly, then it’s pet friendly.