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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Pilots Liz Singer, left, and Dale Ober prepare to board their plane at the Provo Airport, which hopes to raise enough money to improve its radar capability.<BR>

Utah County leaders are trying everything short of a tax increase to fund a new radar system for the Provo Airport.

The county needs to raise $2 million in order to receive a $3 million match from the federal government.

Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is crafting a bill that would allow Utah County to use tourism and recreation dollars for airport improvements, namely radar.

"Airport radar is a regional issue," Bramble said.

Radar in Utah Valley could benefit not only Provo but airports in Spanish Fork, Salt Lake City and West Jordan because Utah Valley is bowl-shaped and air traffic in the valley below 8,000 feet is invisible to radar at Salt Lake International.

That regional need should convince the Legislature to pitch in the money, Provo Mayor Lewis Billings said. But Bramble said the city needs to pitch in some of the cash.

Now he's working on legislation that would allow the county to do that by dipping into the Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention (TRCC) fund. The fund is typically used to build convention centers and recreational facilities, but Bramble wants to include airport improvements as a possible recipient of TRCC revenues.

"We're not mandating anything, we're just leaving this as another option to local governments to give them a little more flexibility," Bramble said.

Utah County Commissioner Steve White said the Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau is keen on the idea of using TRCC money for the radar. Local hoteliers and restaurant owners also have told officials it's a good idea, he said.

The Legislature is working on another funding option as well.

Last week, the transportation appropriations committee prioritized a $1 million request for the radar system. The project made the top two, but officials believe the state might have less money than they anticipated, and the radar might not make the cut.

Billings hopes to rake in $1.25 million from the state for the radar.

He said he doesn't want to raise taxes in order to get the money for the system.

"It's not fair for retired Grandma Jones to have her taxes going to (the airport) for a billionaire to fly his jet in and out," he said.

Although mostly for private planes, the Provo Airport is a relief airport for several commercial lines in case Salt Lake International is closed. Billings said he does hope that the airport will someday be a commercial destination.

Bramble's bill could also create a way for Salt Lake County leaders to plug a $35 million funding gap for a light-rail line to the Salt Lake airport.

Voters approved sales-tax increases to pay for four new TRAX lines — including the six-mile airport line — but it isn't enough to cover construction of the one-mile portion that falls on airport property.

The city is considering using airline passenger fees as one of many options to help pay for the light rail line.

Bramble is adamant that House and Senate leadership oppose "Salt Lake City raiding the airport fund for TRAX."

If city and county leaders want an airport TRAX line so much, they could use Bramble's pending legislation and divert TRCC revenue to the light-rail line.

"It's called prioritization of scarce resources," Bramble said.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson — an avid airport TRAX supporter — said she wouldn't be willing to divert tourism and recreation dollars for the new rail line.

"How deep do we really want to dilute the funding source? Tourism recreation, cultural, I think it works. It works for our county," Wilson said. "I can't imagine that I would be comfortable deterring from those missions to support transportation development."


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