OREM — Anyone who has driven along University Parkway in Provo and Orem during rush hour knows the cities are approaching a transportation meltdown.

Recognizing that, the Mountainland Association of Governments, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Transit Authority have been evaluating additional travel options for the heart of Utah County.

Their answer? Bus rapid transit.

"It's been exciting to see the emergence of BRT as a true rapid alternative," said Jim Lightbody, a national consultant on the project who has developed BRT systems across the country. "BRT offers the advantages (of) rail with quality service at a price that's affordable, and (it's) flexible because you can use the local roadway."

Orem residents and the Orem City Council recently met with Lightbody and MAG, UDOT and UTA representatives to discuss rapid transit and the pros and cons of building it in their city.

"(We have) the challenge of (an) increasing population in this area," said Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn. "How do we handle that? This is a real challenge for us. Change is painful."

Bus rapid transit is not just extra stops or new buses on current UTA lines. Instead, the project would mean specific bus lanes, shorter wait times and new, technologically advanced buses — but with significant construction and at a price tag of an estimated $100 million, said Chad Eccles, a transportation planner and MAG project manager. However, federal funds would play a significant role in the project.

Currently, 3,000 people ride UTA's 830 line daily, which travels from Utah Valley State College to Provo Towne Centre Mall, hitting Brigham Young University along the way.

With bus rapid transit, travel times would decrease, and by having buses travel in each direction every five minutes, projected ridership is 13,000 to 15,000 a day.

To do that, University Parkway will have to be widened through the two cities in order to maintain the current number of lanes and add two bus lanes, Eccles said.

"I think it's a fantastic thing," said Marie Arnold, a resident who lives near 1200 South and is the PTA president of Westmore Elementary. "They're thinking ahead."

She loves the idea of BRT, but told the council she doesn't want it on 1200 South — one of three routes studied.

"I don't have a problem with BRT at all," Arnold said. "I think it's a great thing to come to Orem. It just makes much more sense for it to be on University Parkway."

If the line were to travel on 1200 South, it would run near an elementary school, through a residential area and drop people off far from the businesses and restaurants on the parkway, she said.

However, after a public hearing June 4 and the recent meeting with city officials, project managers acknowledge that using center lanes on University Parkway is the preferred route, Eccles said.

The other option was using added lanes alongside University Parkway, which presents more potential run-ins with right-turning cars.

"We're leaning toward the center-running University Parkway," Eccles said. "The response back from city that they would support University Parkway and the center-running (option)."

There are stops roughly planned for east and west of I-15 near UVSC, Main Street and University Parkway, University Mall, somewhere along the diagonal, near Olive Garden in Provo, several around BYU, downtown Provo, Provo Towne Centre and Novell.

Eccles said they hope to have the entire route picked by July, at which point they'll approach Orem and Provo governments with formal documents. Another public meeting for input will be held.

After defining the route, the agencies will begin the environmental impact study, then a report will be presented to the federal agencies for approval and funding.

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