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Route 4 is the best option to bringing bus rapid transit to Provo-Orem before funding fades

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 10:36 a.m. MDT

UTA adds routes and offers additional service in the Provo/Orem area in January 1986. (Deseret News Archives) UTA adds routes and offers additional service in the Provo/Orem area in January 1986. (Deseret News Archives)

Route 4 has lined up through the scrutiny of study, data, multiple stakeholder groups, analysis and years of engaged discussion to serve the greatest number in the community at the most effective dollar amount. It goes where people in this community want to go, where our students want to go, serves more people and supports clean air initiatives. The impact of losing this project is serious. Provo has enjoyed the success of momentum and opportunity in solid community wins. This decision halts that momentum.

The data and history are compelling. Public processes began in 2004 to identify funding for a Provo-Orem bus rapid transit (BRT) route to prepare the region for significant impending growth. Thirty municipalities through Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG) united for this effort to put funding ($75 million) toward this transit project. Provo councils discussed route alignments for 100 West, then Freedom Boulevard, and finally University Avenue when the data showed that ridership levels “were not supported” elsewhere. As part of those early discussions, a route around or through BYU was a given. It was on the map in February and again in April 2009. It was included in a 2010 resolution as an addendum.

At that time, two representatives of the Municipal Council originated from the neighborhood that would eventually convince the current council that they had not had input on the 900 East route and that it was a terrible choice for their neighborhood. Ultimately, the advocacy and opinions of about 125 people would convince a majority of the current council to vote against Route 4 and propose multiple alternatives.

According to the vote against Route 4, four members on the council believe that UTA has inaccurate data and no sensitivity to neighborhood issues, but now UTA will become their advocate.

These other routes (0 or 6) put Provo citizens, the redevelopment of downtown, the other 33 neighborhoods of the city anticipating transit, Orem and their plans, and the region’s transportation planning in a very precarious position. The core project is now on shaky ground. Implications to other projects cannot be ignored.

Funding may dissolve, killing the project. The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) dictates strict data for which a project can qualify for funding. The great equalizer is that it must provide the highest ridership for the lowest cost — period. For that, Provo competes with multiple agencies with highly qualified projects from throughout the country. The delays will surely jeopardize our competitive position. We cannot ignore the economic implications of delay and the increased costs that will be born locally.

Construction costs also increase significantly over time. A 10-year delay would be likely and may double the project costs. Losing out on $75 million in FTA funding and $75 million in local MAG match is devastating. It’s a high-stakes gamble to convince UTA to be our advocate.

Stepping away from the federal picture, UTA, certainly not lacking for projects, must now take this back to their board. However, the outlook from a recent post on Facebook looks dismal. Rep. Greg Hughes, board chairman, said to Deputy Mayor Corey Norman, “We’re done. We WILL NOT ask for money for an inferior project.” Again, the data plays a vital role. We have an award-winning transit agency that continues to create highly successful projects throughout Utah. They are now signaling the clear, bright lines for Provo’s decision. It looks like a NO.

So how do you balance neighborhood concerns with a regional transit project? The responsibility is the council’s. It is within their power through land-use policy to protect the future of that neighborhood. They certainly have a well-informed advocacy group supporting that effort. Several of the city’s council members have originated from that neighborhood, so there is no lack of experience.

Residents should participate in the neighborhood-specific planning that inhibits, by policy, the high-density development that they fear will encroach, and allow BRT to come where data shows it should and a large majority of citizens support.

The only thing that can lift the delay would be for a member of the council to reconsider their vote in light of the serious signal from UTA about BRT’s future in Provo and Orem. If you are concerned about this loss, you may want to write your council members; ask them to reconsider their vote, before it’s too late.

Sherrie Hall Everett is a former Provo Municipal Council member and former Transportation and Mobility Committee chairwoman. She remains a member of that committee.

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