Mero Moment: Troubling Transportation Tendencies

This week I want to talk about some problems in transportation. KSL News reported recently that a Davis County farmer, a man named Charlie Black, is in a struggle with the Utah Department of Transportation over lands he owns that UDOT wants to turn into part of the new West Davis corridor. Farmer Black has learned firsthand that what UDOT wants to do, it will do.

The West Davis corridor might be a very good idea. What’s not so good of an idea is that our laws seem to favor government projects over private property rights. Again, the road project might be a good idea. But I’ve always had a problem with the notion that government comes first instead of landowners.

I also thought it was interesting that KSL spun the brief story as “urban sprawl” interfering with agriculture. Actually, what KSL described isn’t urban sprawl, it’s “smart growth.” Urban sprawl occurs through the free market when farmers actually sell their land to home developers. UDOT is a government agency. When it takes land it’s because the government needs it, and it often needs to take land to make room for its so-called enlightened ideas about how communities should be planned.

Not that planning is a bad thing as long as private developers are the ones doing it, such as Kennecott did in the west Salt Lake Valley with its Daybreak community. Government planning of communities is the evil at which point lines begin to blur between the common good and some liberal’s imagination about how everyone should live. Ironically, that sort of stupidity is called “smart growth.”

It’s not surprising that UDOT has the power they do to invade Charlie Black’s farm. There’s not a lot of transparency in government when it comes to transportation. Let me give you another example.

Terry Diehl used to be a board member of the Utah Transit Authority. But no longer. He’s being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office for allegedly misusing official information about the location of a potential commuter rail station in Draper and buying up the land rights in the surrounding area. That’s bad enough, but get this – even though he’s no longer on its board, Terry Diehl continues to work with UTA and wants to develop more land opportunities. Now this sort of stuff only happens in the darkness of political corruption. If UTA were operating in the bright sunshine, no one in their right mind would allow this to happen.

Diehl told The Salt Lake Tribune that he has followed all the rules, that he filed a conflict of interest report and that he abstained from voting on his personal projects. As a side note, this sounds an awful lot like the state Office of Economic Development where board members often vote themselves tax dollars for their pet projects. Don’t you love how these characters defend themselves by saying, “I followed the rules” when the rules are so clearly corrupted?

When State Senator Kevin Van Tassel asked Representative Greg Hughes why Diehl was allowed to continue to do business with UTA, even as he’s being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office, theTribune reports, “Hughes said that was done to help persuade Diehl to resign. He said if he stayed on the board, he could continue to be involved in developments as long as he declared conflicts and abstained [from voting on his projects.]” Okay, are you thinking what I’m thinking? Who’s running that joint? This alleged criminal or the rest of the board? He had to be persuaded to resign so UTA gave this guy the opportunity for more inside deals? Are you kidding me?

I hope the Legislative Audit Committee and the Legislature’s transportation committees stay on top of UTA. I guess it’s because most transportation dollars are federal money that legislators think they don’t have power over these agencies. But they do have power and they ought to use it to shed light on the operations of UTA and UDOT.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.