SALT LAKE CITY — Today, the average Wasatch Front commuter spends a little under an hour driving to and from work.

By 2050 — when Utah’s population is projected to hit more than 5 million — that commute time could jump to an hour and 40 minutes.

On top of that, housing prices will be even higher, and there will be little improvement in air quality.

That is — if cities and counties don’t change the way they plan communities or transit in the next few decades, said Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, to a crowd of mayors, city council members and other local officials Tuesday. More than 100 people, including business leaders and other community advocates, attended the Wasatch Choice 2050 + Mayor’s Metro-Solutions Symposium at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

“Growth. We keep hearing about it,” Gruber said. “It’s this omnipresent issue. We have been growing, we are growing today, we will continue to grow in the future, and we have all that growth occurring here in the Wasatch Front — we’re bounded by the mountains on one side and then the lake and the mountains on the other.

“Just think about the impacts that growth will have on our quality of life if we stay on the current path we’re on,” Gruber continued.

So looking ahead — knowing Utah is facing a huge population boom in the next three decades — Gruber posed the question: What can local leaders do to preserve the state’s quality of life, from ensuring housing is affordable to preventing bottlenecks on the interstate?

The answer, he said, comes from local leaders strategically working together to plan for the future and build smarter communities — with more housing options, prioritizing open space and more transit-oriented developments, with a variety of transportation choices.

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