WEST VALLEY CITY — For commuters who depend on 3500 South, traffic flow changed Monday to accommodate a new kind of bus that cruises up and down center lanes of traffic.
Called bus-rapid in the public transit industry, and branded MAX by the Utah Transit Authority, the buses ride along "guideways," or center lanes separated from the rest of traffic by curbing.
Detectors in the guideways will alert traffic lights of approaching buses, and lights can be delayed for 10 additional seconds.
The result is that buses are expected sail through the area faster than other traffic. "We are able to bypass traffic," said Mike Allegra, UTA assistant general manager.
Drivers of passenger traffic need to be aware of some left-hand turn signals in which they will be sharing a lane with the MAX, similar to vehicles sharing turn lanes with TRAX on 400 South in Salt Lake City.
The 35 MAX has been running since July 2008. It replaced Route 37, a bus that had 140 stops up and down 3500 South. The MAX, in comparison, has 13 stops between 200 West (the Sandy-to-Salt Lake TRAX line) and 8400 West.
The dedicated guideways for now are only a mile long, from Market Street just west of City Hall to Bangerter Highway. That stretch cost UTA $8 million to build.
UTA also purchased seven buses costing a total of $14 million for the project, although regular UTA buses can run in the lanes, said Hal Ryan Johnson, UTA's MAX project manager.
"We picked this bus because of its three doors and its low floors for passengers," Johnson said.
West of Bangerter Highway, the MAX runs to 8400 West with regular traffic. The next spur of dedicated center lanes will be built from Bangerter to 5600 West. It will be built when funding permits.
About 4,100 people are riding MAX each day — about double the number of passengers on Route 37. UTA attributes the higher ridership to the reliability of MAX. Reliability is defined as buses arriving at stops within five minutes of the scheduled time, and MAX is 50 percent more reliable, Johnson said.
In 2011 or 2012, when the West Valley City spur of TRAX is completed, the 35 MAX's route will end at the West Valley City Intermodal Hub. The West Valley TRAX line will span from the intermodal hub in a northeast direction to the 2100 South TRAX station.
"MAX is the cousin of TRAX," West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder said. "And MAX and TRAX will work hand-in-hand."
About 80 miles of MAX are planned along the Wasatch Front over the next several decades, including in the Provo-Orem area and along the Mountain View Corridor.