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Transportation Secretary announces $7 billion funding for states, meets with Summit County officials

Pete Buttigieg Chris Robinson Jenny Wilson
Ben Lasseter
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KPCW
Summit County Council Chair Chris Robinson (right) and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg listen as Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson speaks.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg met with Summit County Council Chair Chris Robinson and Emergency Manager Kathryn McMullin and visited the scene of the Parleys Canyon wildfire.

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Ben Lasseter
/
KPCW
Sec. Pete Buttigieg announces the PROTECT Formula Program, which will provide $7.3 billion to states and $65 million to Utah over the next five years, at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City alongside Gov. Spencer Cox.

Buttigieg was in Salt Lake City Friday, where he announced billions of dollars of funding for states to spend on infrastructure and emergency response. He also discussed recent fires and earthquakes in Utah with local leaders, including Summit County officials.

“We’re now making the biggest investments in the better part of a century,” Buttigieg said, “to modernize our transportation infrastructure; our roads and bridges, our transit and trains, our ports and waterways, as well as unprecedented investments in things like broadband internet and clean drinking water. And a big part of this law is funding to help protect communities against extreme weather.”

The PROTECT Formula Program will send $65 million to Utah, $12 million of that this year. PROTECT stands for Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-Saving Transportation. It’s part of the federal $108 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed last November.

Gov. Spencer Cox said the state hasn’t decided exactly how to use the money yet.

“Certainly, our burn-scar areas are very high priority,” Cox said. “Another priority, of course, are our canyon areas. When we have snowpack that melts very quickly, we’ll have rockslides, we’ll have avalanches as well. This is money we can use to help prevent those things, or at least to keep roads open when those disasters happen.”

Cox said the state will only use the money for future projects, not to reimburse local communities for projects already funded.

After the announcement at the Capitol Building, Buttigieg visited Parleys Canyon. He saw the site where a wildfire burned over 500 acres near Interstate 80 a year ago, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate.

Buttigieg then met and discussed emergency response strategies with local department heads and elected officials. Those included the United Fire Authority, the Wasatch Front Regional Council, Salt Lake County, the Utah Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources.

Summit County Council Chair Chris Robinson and Emergency Manager Kathryn McMullin were also part of the 10-member roundtable.

Robinson touched on water levels reaching historic lows, evacuation challenges and issues related to rampant population growth. He also said federal resources were key in responding to the Parleys Canyon Fire.

Both Summit County officials said neighborhoods in Summit County may not have enough roads for a worst-case scenario evacuation. Robinson told Buttigieg that’s a heightened concern during peak tourism season.

“Just over this hill, we have world-class ski resorts and a lot of visitation, and [the Snyderville Basin] has two state routes that feed it, and we can have upwards of 40,000 or 50,000 visitors,” Robinson said. “Thinking ahead, what do we do in the event of one of these natural disasters as far as, how do we evacuate them if we're unable to use those?”

Robinson said he hoped PROTECT could help fund solutions to that concern.

He told KPCW Summit County is less likely to petition for the federal money for public transit to the Salt Lake and Heber valleys.

The $7.3 billion PROTECT Formula Program divided among states follows the Department of Transportation’s $1.5 billion RAISE Discretionary Grants announced in January. Communities around the country can apply to those.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a new $1 billion Community Wildfire Defense Grant program to give funding to at-risk communities for wildfire planning and mitigation. Robinson said Summit County would consider lobbying for some of that money as well.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.