PROVO — Plans to construct a dedicated bus transit line in Provo and Orem are moving right along, but not without some criticism from local residents.
The Utah Transit Authority and the Utah Department of Transportation are proposing to build a bus rapid transit system through both Utah County cities with construction starting this summer and completion expected in about two years.
The Provo-Orem Bus Rapid Transit project is aimed at addressing transit and roadway infrastructure needs, according to Provo officials. The preferred route, as defined in the environmental assessment process completed in 2011, would connect the Orem Intermodal Center, Utah Valley University, the University Mall area, BYU, high-density student housing areas, downtown Provo, the Provo Intermodal Center, Provo Towne Centre mall and the East Bay Business Park.
The buses would travel about half of the route in dedicated lanes with traffic signal prioritization.
Provo Mayor John Curtis compared bus rapid transit to TRAX light rail because buses would run in a dedicated lane, with passengers paying before boarding and accessing the buses through doors on the sides of extended vehicles.
Buses on the route are expected to run in five- to seven-minute intervals during peak hours and 10- to 15-minute intervals in nonpeak periods. The proposed route is estimated to allow buses to travel the entire 10.5-mile route five to 10 minutes faster than if traveled by car.
Throughout the nearly 17-year process, both the Provo and Orem city councils — along with other stakeholders — held numerous public meetings on the project to gather input from residents, Curtis said.
Recently, some residents have called for a ballot initiative to try to halt development of the project, but Curtis said the project is too far along to be stopped at this point.
“It’s pretty well moving forward in the refinement stage,” he said. “It’s funded (and) it’s approved. All the (civic) bodies approved this project years ago.”
Currently, however, questions about lease agreements for access to local roadways still remain, he acknowledged. Those leases would grant access to the roads for 50 years, he said.
City lawyers are currently reviewing the lease agreements to determine if a voter referendum would be a legal option. A decision could come in the next week or so, Curtis said.
The project is 90 percent ready, Curtis said, and though some residents have reservations about the entire project, it will proceed as planned. He said that even if the lease agreements are not signed, the project can still move forward, though a number of design options would be lost.
“The leases make this a better project,” the mayor said. If the leases were invalidated, then designers would have figure out how to adjust the route for travel without a dedicated bus lane, he said.
“It would alter the strategy, but it wouldn’t stop the project,” Curtis said.
The bus rapid transit stations will employ elevated platforms, allowing riders to enter the buses without climbing steps, according to city reports.
The estimated cost of the project is $150 million, with about half of the funding coming from the Federal Transit Administration. The local match of $75 million will come from transit taxes already being paid and collected in Utah County, with an additional $40 million from UDOT for building out University Parkway, bringing the total amount to $190 million, Curtis said.
Initial analysis for the project began in 1999 prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics, the mayor explained. Route alternatives were identified in 2005, with the locally preferred alternative route selected in 2014, he noted.
When completed, bus rapid transit is expected to have about 13,000 riders per day and will traverse the route in about 38 minutes. At capacity, the service would remove approximately 5,000 car trips from local roadways, according to city officials.
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