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Transit first: Mountain View should be more than a highway  

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial
Article Last Updated: 06/11/2007 08:17:05 PM MDT

Think of chicken and egg. Which should come first in the Mountain View corridor: an eight-lane highway or mass transit?

Some groups worried about clean air and children's health believe that mass transit should be built in the corridor before the highway is laid. They are dismayed, and rightly so, that the $32 million needed to buy a dedicated transit lane has yet to be allocated, even though the long-range plan for the highway includes some form of mass transit on 5600 West.

We share that concern. We realize that it probably is impractical to attempt to rely on mass transit in lieu of the highway, but at minimum, mass transit should be constructed as part of the highway project.

The reason is air pollution. Anyone who lives in this valley must realize by now that if drastic measures are not taken soon to reduce that pollution, Utahns will pay an ever higher price in poor health.

The Sierra Club, Utahns for Better Transportation, Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Utah Moms for Clean Air all point to a study published in the medical journal The Lancet that showed that children living near a major roadway can suffer underdeveloped lungs and lifelong respiratory illnesses.

The 13-year study followed two groups of Southern California fourth-graders for nine years. Researchers learned that children who lived within 1,500 meters of a major roadway were exposed to soot, ultrafine particles, nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants that come from vehicles. The kids who lived within 500 meters suffered the worst effects.

The Mountain View highway will pass within 500 meters of Whittier Elementary, Hillside Elementary and Hunter High School. Hunter Junior High, Carl Sandburg Elementary and Hunter Elementary would be within 1,000 meters.

Mountain View still is in the planning stages, and these groups plan to comment during the review of the draft environmental impact statement. But we agree that transit should be part of the plan from the get-go.

We also understand that when the highway is built, transit will not magically protect nearby children from air pollution. For that, Utahns may to have to place their hopes in cleaner-burning vehicle technologies.

But electric-powered light-rail transit, to name one example, is something that can be done now. Why wouldn't you do it first?

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