SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority should shift to just running rail and bus lines and leave future projects to another entity, a lawmaker proposed to the Legislature's Transportation and Governance Task Force Wednesday.
"As far as transit goes, it's been bottlenecked by funding. There really isn't a solid funding source for any additional capital improvements or expansion," state Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said.
Utah is one of only five states that don't directly fund public transit — Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Alabama are the others — and relies on local-option sales taxes to pay for bus and rail systems.
Anderegg, who serves as chairman of the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee, recommended they come up with an ongoing funding source for public transit and a new structure for spending that money.
He said if the state follows through with his recommendation that UTA is transformed into an agency that's only responsible for operations and maintenance, the special service district's $2 billion debt will have to be absorbed.
And the state would also have to determine how to oversee those funds. Options include establishing a state commission responsible for all transportation planning and funding or giving local governments more say.
"It's now to the point where we have to be big boys and girls, we have to look at how we're going to fund this. Doing nothing in my opinion is not at option," Anderegg said. "Given the growth, we have to do something."
He recommended the task force bring in a consultant to flesh out the options, citing experts he has dealt with in Switzerland, where a contract was awarded to run that country's train system.
The task force, expected to make recommendations to the 2018 Legislature, took no action on Anderegg's proposal. It comes as UTA is working to overcome years of controversy.
Those include critical legislative audits and an ongoing federal investigation into transit development projects. UTA will be federally monitored for up to three years after signing a nonprosecution agreement with prosecutors.
UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson said after the task force meeting that Anderegg "raised some very important questions and gave good examples of alternatives" but any change "needs to be something that will work for the state."
Benson said he wasn't concerned about what could happen to UTA as long as that's the case.
"All of us at UTA really care about the work we do and the customers who use our service. If a future allows us to do a better job of that, we'll adjust," he said. "We've been through a lot of changes already, and we're not afraid of more changes."
The Senate chairman of the task force, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said Anderegg's presentation is the first of several from elected officials who oversee transportation.
Harper said the presentations will help the committee narrow its options for how UTA as well as the Utah Department of Transportation should be overseen and funded in the future as the state's population grows.
"Realistically, we're going to have some solid recommendations," Harper said, that may call for implementing major changes next session while studying others for action in 2019. "We want to change things for the next 30 years."