Ravell Call, Deseret News
A UTA bus carries passengers on State Street in the free fare zone in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012.
The decision to move forward on plans to create a rapid transit bus route between Davis County and downtown Salt Lake City marks an important breakthrough in transportation planning along the Wasatch Front. It is one that deserves to stand as a model for future planning efforts in other locations.
The Davis County Commission has approved a resolution for a 12-mile express bus route traversing the communities of Bountiful, Woods Cross and North Salt Lake, which would become only the second express bus route operated by the Utah Transit Authority. The proposal emerged from an analysis by the UTA of present and future commuter needs in an area where traffic arteries are squeezed daily during rush-hour travel.
The proposal stands out by embracing the use of bus service as an important component of an overall transportation plan. Over the past decade, the UTA has prioritized the creation of light rail and commuter train service over the expansion of bus service, and has been unable to enhance existing bus routes due to revenue pressures. Currently, the UTA operates express bus service only in Taylorsville, but is also considering a similar service in Utah County.
The Davis County express route would cost an estimated $75 million, relatively inexpensive when measured against the costs of adding more trains or highway lanes. By virtue of geography that sandwiches the growing suburban communities of Davis County between a mountain range and the Great Salt Lake, the costs of creating additional freeway lanes are high, if not prohibitive. The Utah Department of Transportation is moving forward on separate plans to expand the Legacy Highway north toward Ogden — an effort that has met with opposition in areas that would be impacted by a new expressway.
The imposition of rapid bus service should engender little opposition. The planning process wisely included forecasts for possible future expansion, including service to the University of Utah and the eventual creation of light rail in Davis County.
How to pay for the new bus route is, however, still an open question. The UTA will seek out funding sources that may include federal grants, but an increase in UTA’s share of sales tax revenues will likely be necessary. A request for such an increase was entertained by the Utah Legislature in the last session, but failed to pass the House of Representatives.
The manner in which the Davis County bus route project has come to fruition should make an increase in UTA’s sales tax increment a more palatable proposition for lawmakers. The planning effort was thorough and included input from all constituencies, including commuters themselves, and could serve as a template for how to efficiently and effectively address transit needs throughout all of the area served by the transit authority.