The Utah Transit Authority is sending three of its executives, eight of its board members and three Salt Lake legislators on a three-day tour of Northwestern light-rail systems.
The expense to the taxpayer-funded transportation agency will be at least $740 per person, said UTA spokesman Craig Rasmussen, for a total cost to the authority of nearly $10,000.The UTA delegation that left for Portland Wednesday morning is being accompanied by eight other state and local officials and business leaders. Their way to Portland, Ore.; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Calgary, Alberta, Canada, will be paid by the agencies and organizations they represent.
The trip was planned by UTA officials to help show board members what Utah's proposed light-rail system might look like and to help sell lawmakers and other community leaders on the idea of funding it.
A $5 million study paid for by UTA and the federal government on the feasibility of using electric-powered trains to connect Sandy with downtown Salt Lake City is nearly complete.
This fall, the UTA board will be asked to choose a site for the light-rail system, either along existing Union Pacific railroad tracks or paralleling State and Main streets.
And next year, lawmakers will be asked to help UTA pay for the $225 million project, possibly by changing the law to allow UTA to seek an increase in the quarter-cent sales tax currently collected for mass transportation.
Rasmussen said the cost of the trip, especially for the three lawmakers, could be classified as a lobbying expense. He said the board has already expressed its support for the project through its allocation of $1.25 million toward the feasibility study. Lawmakers, however, have not had an opportunity yet to consider the project.
UTA General Manager John Pingree admitted the trip was expensive, but said the results would be worth it.
"We've considered the cost and realize it's a lot of money, but at the same time we recognize that it's important to see operating systems, understand community interests and how they were resolved, and speak to people who have actually installed light-rail systems," Pingree said.
He said it is especially important for lawmakers to make the trip because they, along with the public, will ultimately decide whether the Salt Lake area gets its own light-rail system.
The legislators invited on the trip are all from Salt Lake City. They are Sen. Richard B. Tempest, a Republican; Rep. Olene Walker, another Republican and Rep. Janet Rose, a Democrat.
UTA executives the tour include Pingree; John Inglish, operations director; and William Oswald, legal counsel.
UTA board members on the trip are Trent Jeppson, board president; and members Shirl Kemp, Lawrence Urry, Robert Wood, John Florez, Richard Terry, Joan Burnside and Richard Paul.
The Utah Transportation Commission is sending Samuel Taylor, its chairman, and Wayne Winters, vice chairman, as well as Gene Findlay, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation.
The Wasatch Front Regional Council has sent Wilbur Jeffries, executive director, and Mick Crandall, program director. The council has helped draft the feasibility study as part of its responsibility for planning for the area's transportation needs.
Michael Zuhl, chief of staff for Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, and local business leaders Walker Wallace and Stan Penfold are also makingthe trip.
The group was to ride Portland's Metropolitan Area Express light-rail system. From there, they are to fly to Vancouver for a Thursday tour of the British Columbia Transit System, and then to Calgary for a Friday tour of that city's light-rail system before heading back to Salt Lake City Friday night.
Pingree, Inglish and Jeppsen from UTA all visited the Portland system in 1987. Inglish has since been to Portland and the Canadian cities to set up the current trip.