Over the last year, BID has poured over articles, reports, studies, and interviews to analyze the impact that an Olympic bid can have on transportation development. No matter how many times a city may have bid, its pursuit of hosting a single Games is often very influenced by a need for transportation infrastructure and stadia that will ideally boost economic growth beyond the Olympics. However, BID had never considered repeat hosts.
This week, the commissioned Utah Olympic Exploratory Committee delivered its report and recommendations to Governor Herbert and Mayor Becker that support a Salt Lake City bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. The report says, “Utah’s Olympic legacy is strong and vibrant and ready to provide the foundation for a future Olympic Winter Games.”
While the Governor and Mayor have not released any formal statements yet, BID is fascinated with the idea of a repeat bidder who may actually host two Olympics just over two decades apart. Few cities have ever hosted the Olympics multiple times, and in the last century, none less that 40 to 50 years apart. With the increased emphasis on Olympic legacy and sustainability by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Salt Lake City provides a unique opportunity to see just how much added progress could be made in advancing transportation infrastructure given its perceived successes in 2002.
When Salt Lake City bid to host the 2002 Winter Games, the city already had the foundation for strong transportation infrastructure. The preparation for the bid and implementation of the Olympic Transportation Plan included millions in federal and local funds for light rail, road expansion and city planning and management projects. However, these funded projects were all meant to enhance an already functioning transportation system. The result, as evidenced in a post-Olympic poll, was an incredible 92 percent of respondents stating transportation was ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ during the Games! Olympic stadia in Salt Lake, much like roads and rail from the 2002 Games have actually increased in use since the Games ended. Colin Hilton, CEO of the Olympic Legacy Foundation, reports, “The venues have doubled the participation from 10 years ago.”
Given the enduring positive legacy, which the Committee sites extensively, and integrity of structures and transportation systems from 2002, one has to marvel at how much the estimated $1.67 billion budget for the 2026 Games could do to advance the transportation and infrastructure capacity as well as the international interest and investment in Salt Lake City. While transportation investments would no doubt be involved in the planning process for Utah Winter Olympics Part 2, it seems reasonable to assume that it would be a fraction of the typical first-time Olympic host city transportation costs. Combined with the close proximity of Salt Lake’s previous gig as an Olympic host, the potential economic benefits to the city will clearly be the focus. Utah and IOC officials contend that hosting the Olympics put Salt Lake “on the map,” but one will have to wait and see if the world is ready to return. At a minimum, the roads, planes and trains that transformed Salt Lake ten years ago, would be a part of the ultimate Olympic legacy…serving another Games.