To speed up travel time to downtown Salt Lake City and improve overall service in west Salt Lake County, the Utah Transit Authority plans to establish a transit hub at Valley Fair Mall this summer.

Buses that now travel from the west valley to downtown Salt Lake would converge on the mall, where passengers would transfer to express coaches taking the freeway to Salt Lake City. The remaining buses, meanwhile, would return to revamped routes covering the west side of the county."They all go downtown now, but only half of them need to. So why not have the other half serve the (immediate) area?" said UTA General Manager John Inglish, explaining the reason for the change.

UTA hopes to have the hub and rerouting in place sometime after June, following public hearings on the proposed route changes.

Inglish said UTA has been looking at the idea of transit centers along the Wasatch Front for about 10 years as a way to transport people to areas other than downtown. In examining its service area, UTA found suburban shopping malls to be natural locations for transit hubs.

University Mall in Orem is already functioning as one, albeit a crude one, for Utah County commuters, Inglish said. Most of the buses serving the county and all the express runs to Salt Lake converge at the mall. UTA is working on plans to expand and redesign the bus stop at the mall to accommodate more buses without obstructing traffic.

A similar design would be used at Valley Fair Mall. UTA would lengthen its existing turnout along 2700 West across from the West Valley City Hall to fit from six to seven buses. New, larger waiting areas would also be constructed.

Planners are still working out the routing and scheduling necessary to make the hub work. Some routes would be changed dramatically, others changed just slightly and at least one new route would be added, said UTA planner Randy Park.

In general, most of the bus lines serving Salt Lake County west of I-15 would end up at Valley Fair Mall. From the mall, commuters can transfer to either the express route or one that would make intermediate stops on its way to Salt Lake.

The express would operate only during rush hours - between 6-9 a.m. and 2:30-5:30 p.m. - and would travel along I-215 and I-80 into downtown Salt Lake. Inglish said the express would cut 15 minutes off the current downtown trip from West Valley.

UTA hopes the time savings would make up for the inconvenience of transferring. But Park said UTA would attempt to reduce transfer waits. Planners would schedule routes so a commuter can catch a connecting bus at the mall within 15 minutes.

By reducing the number of buses heading to downtown Salt Lake City, UTA hopes to improve service to the west half of the valley. Park said the confusing maze of zigzagging circuits would be simplified into a more direct north-south and east-west grid pattern.

Straightening out routes would also reduce the number of left turns buses have to make, Park said, enabling drivers to meet scheduled pickups more consistently.

The rerouting would include additional service into the south and southwest quadrants of the valley. Park said UTA is considering extending a trip that currently stops in West Jordan to continue to the South Towne Center in Sandy.

The Valley Fair Mall transit center and improvement of bus service in west Salt Lake County is the first step in UTA's long-term plan to overall improvement of mass transit countywide, Inglish said.

Step 2 is increasing the frequency of pickups to 10 minutes along main corridors in the county; and Step 3 is constructing a light-rail system from Sandy to downtown Salt Lake along with increasing east-west bus service.

The last two steps would require a quarter-cent sales tax increase, which Salt Lake County residents could vote on this fall. But Inglish said UTA was able to squeeze the Valley Fair Mall hub out of existing revenues.

"We have to do more with the money we've got. Any more service will come at an additional cost."