Provo’s BRT Route 4 is a good route from a short-term perspective. The advantage most cited by its supporters is that it is the most likely to get funding because it is UTA’s preferred route. So why did four Provo City Council members vote to ask UTA to look again at variations of Route 0, 3 and 6?
Route 0 goes directly down University Avenue, with a possible jog at Canyon Road next to BYU. Since it doesn’t loop around BYU, it is faster, more direct and more reliable (almost all dedicated lanes) for non-BYU area riders. BYU area riders are handled by a connector bus, which adds an average of a few extra minutes, and a transfer, for those riders. Routes 6 and 3 handle BYU area riders by doing a bootleg route that goes back and forth on 700 North and 800 North to reach the southeast corner of BYU.
Route 0 has a ridership estimate of about 10 percent less than Route 4, but this does not take into account a ridership boost over time as connecting routes are added, due to having a faster and more robust trunk line. Route 6 and Route 3 have ridership estimates within 2 percent of Route 4. All three alternate routes do a better job of putting the BRT line where economic development and/or high density housing is desired and avoiding areas where it isn’t desired.
On May 4, 2010, the Provo Council voted on a UTA proposed route alignment. A map was referenced in a “Whereas” clause of the resolution, but the resolution wording itself does not refer to 900 East, nor do any comments in the minutes. The resolution asks for “further evaluation” of a route going down University Avenue, as compared to a 2008 resolution that had expressed a preference to go down 100 West. The discussion and the resolution were all about University Avenue versus 100 West versus Freedom Boulevard.
Though the council had not expressed a complete route preference, the project rolled ahead with an environmental assessment and solicitations of funds. Three years later, residents of the single-family area adjacent to 900 East learned about the proposed BRT route and got involved in expressing their concerns. A six-month-long stakeholder process resulted in a super majority of the stakeholders expressing a preference for Route 6 versus the proposed Route 4 (though that later reversed to favor Route 4). It later become apparent that UTA had no intention of changing its position on its preferred route, and we started hearing warnings about possible funding loss if anything other than UTA’s preferred route was endorsed by the council.
The theory upon which the project rolled forward is apparently that if the City Council discusses a project, and does not formally disapprove of it, it must be OK to push ahead with it, without scheduling neighborhood meetings to seek feedback from those who would be most impacted. This is a dangerous precedent for a city government like Provo’s, which separates the powers of the executive branch (administration) and legislative branch (City Council). The fact that a legislative body discusses a project, without specifically rejecting it, should not constitute approval to proceed — especially for a major infrastructure project. This lack of appropriate “due process” is one reason that some council members voted no to Route 4.
The council is waiting to hear whether UTA will seriously consider backing one of the suggested alternative routes, after having given direction to avoid putting the main BRT line along 900 East. It is unfortunate that public outreach efforts, including the neighborhoods most affected, were not made in 2010 and that the council did not at that time express its opinion concerning 900 East in a resolution. Now that the council has finally expressed a formal opinion concerning route choices, we will deal with the reality of the situation depending on the response from UTA and MAG. Every effort is being made to find a good BRT solution and move forward.
Dave Sewell is a Provo Municipal Council member and a 40-year Provo resident. He has degrees in computer science and business administration from BYU.