Utah Transit Authority chief John C. Pingree wants to join any organization interested in mass transit. But not all want him.
"We feel he wouldn't be objective. His only purpose is to try and constantly talk us into light rail," said Bill Barton, founding member of ALRT (Area Leaders for Responsible Transportation).Pingree has wanted to join ALRT ever since the organization was formed late last year. ALRT is the only organized opposition to UTA's proposal to build a $225 million light-rail commuter train and bus system in Salt Lake County.
He formally requested membership in a letter this month to Barton. Pingree wrote that during a radio debate on light rail an ALRT member invited him to join the group.
"I am very anxious to become part of your organization so that I might contribute my expertise in public transit as information is needed regarding public transit issues that will be coming before the electorate this year," Pingree wrote.
Barton said the group "had quite a talk about the letter and not one wanted him."
The rejection of Pingree's request for membership indicates definite battle lines are being drawn in the light-rail debate.
The UTA general manager is a director of the Utah Transportation Education Foundation - a group of influential local business and political leaders interested in preventing gridlock along the Wasatch Front. The foundation said it is a non-profit "clearinghouse" for transportation information, not the publicity machine for light rail or any other proposal.
But Barton and ALRT don't buy it. They accuse UTA of creating and using the foundation as a way to circumvent state law, which prohibits UTA from using revenues to promote light rail before voters decide whether to fund the commuter train.
Foundation director Kem Gardner vehemently denies ALRT's characterization. He said the foundation is prohibited under its tax-exempt status to be involved in a referendum on light rail. "We are stricly an education foundation, and UTA has nothing to do with our creation or funding," he said.