By Donna Kemp Spangler
The 2016 Legislative session may be getting much of the public’s attention, particularly legislation aimed at improving Utah’s air quality. Quietly, behind the walls of state government, employees are taking action by participating in the TravelWise Winter Air Challenge, a friendly competition to see which agency can save the most trips and achieve the greatest reduction in commuter miles.
Not surprisingly, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality continues to top the charts despite being one of the smallest agencies in the state in terms of the number of employees.
Perhaps it’s because we have employees like Dale Jorgensen, financial manager, who rides TRAX every day and is among the No. 1 state employees saving vehicle miles traveled. He leaves his Taylorsville home, catches TRAX at the West Valley station, and has been an active transit commuter since FrontRunner came on line in 2008.
For Dale, it’s a matter of convenience and habit. He also saves money because he doesn’t have to drive the family’s second vehicle, an older pickup truck that gets only 11 miles to the gallon and pollutes the air far more than the average vehicle.
Chamonix Larsen, the state’s resource stewardship coordinator, says the winter challenge is a great way for the state to lead by example and to focus its efforts at time when air pollution can be the most severe and unhealthy for Utahns. Gov. Gary Herbert has mandated state agencies to have TravelWise plans in place to give employees’ flexibility to commute via carpool, transit or telecommuting on days when the air quality is poor.
“DEQ is a great example of an agency committed to its mission of improving and enhancing Utah’s environment and quality of life,” Larsen said.
UTA has also made it easier for Capitol Hill watchers. New this year is “Capitol Connector,” a special service until March 10 between the Courthouse TRAX Station, the State Capitol and the North Temple FrontRunner Station. The service runs every 15 minutes from approximately 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
For Dale, riding TRAX allows him to use his time productively, listening to books on tape or preparing for his work day.
“When I see all those commuters at a standstill on I-215, I realize I’m not only doing something for air quality, but also avoid all the frustration that the drivers are experiencing,” he said
Dale’s advice: “Just start doing it. You’ll be more relaxed, be doing your part for air quality, and you won’t mind the extra time it takes because you can do things on the commute instead of just driving.”
The biggest benefit from the challenge will be improved air quality by reducing air pollution through fewer commuter trips each day. And we hope for a heightened awareness that each and every commuter can make choices that will collectively improve the air we breathe. Check out the TravelWise tracker to see who is leading in the state.
I am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here. You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna