The Utah Chapter of the Associated General Contractors held its 93rd annual convention Jan. 22-24 in Salt Lake City, with praise for members’ past work and an eye on building the state’s future. Transportation funding and the $1-billion-plus construction of a new state prison loom large in the annual session of the Utah state legislature, which began Jan. 26.

Photo by Brian Fryer
Executive Director for the Governor's Office of Economic Development Val Hale addresses attendees during opening day of the 2015 AGC of Utah convention. Utah Chapter 2014 Chairman Doug Watts sits to Hale's right, along with economist Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, and Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Utah.

“We hope we’ll see some changes in how the gas tax is collected and maybe some adjustments to fees on vehicles that don’t pay the gas tax but still impact the roads,” says Rich Thorn, president and CEO of Utah AGC. “It has been 18 years now since we raised the gas tax or made changes to how transportation is funded. The long-range transportation plan from now to 2040 is showing we are $11.5 billion short. We need to maintain what we have as well as meet the needs of future growth. Right now we are not doing that.”

Thorn says he is aware of several proposals being considered by legislators. Those range from a flat increase per gallon of fuel currently dedicated to transportation projects as well as changing the tax to a percentage increase that would adjust with price fluctuations. There are also discussions of imposing fees on the increasing numbers of natural gas and hybrid vehicles to compensate for uncollected fuel taxes.

“We’ll be watching which proposals eventually percolate up, and support the one we feel makes the most sense for future transportation needs and for constructing those projects,” Thorn says.

New State Prison

While talks about the future location of a new state prison move along with the legislative site-selection committee, Thorn says the AGC is keenly interested and will be lobbying legislators about how the project is delivered.

“We are going to be involved in discussions about how this gets done no matter where they decide to locate it,” he says. “Will this be a CM/GC project, design-build or hard bid? Will they bid it in separate packages? This is a $1.5-billion project, and we have members who can handle that without a hiccup. But we want to be there and have input.”

Thorn says the AGC has also been working over the past year to help write a bill clarifying rules for safety oversight on multi-employer work sites.

“We have House and Senate sponsors for that bill, so we’ll expect to see some action on that too,” he says. 

Economists Praise Industry

The 2015 convention opened Jan. 22 with an economic forecast and awards presentation. Panelists Natalie Gochnour, economist and associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah; Jeff Edwards, president CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Utah; and Val Hale, recently installed executive director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, praised the state’s continued economic recovery, which has been led by the construction industry.

“Every major economic indicator in the state is growing now, with construction leading the way at 9.6% growth,” said Gochnour. “Your industry has created 10,100 jobs in the last 10 months.”

Gochnour noted that construction work will continue to infuse the Utah economy in the coming years as rebuilding of Salt Lake City International Airport picks up speed.