Utah County's busiest bus stop will soon be a spot with no stop.
Owners of University Mall informed the Utah Transit Authority recently that UTA buses won't be allowed access to mall property after March 8. Buses go in and out of the mall parking lot hourly, six days a week.Mall manager Robert Kallas said the buses are causing extensive damage to parking lots and entryways because paving wasn't designed to hold the weight of a loaded bus. Buses also create congestion by meandering through the parking lot to reach routes around nearby residential areas. Also, many merchants are complaining about people problems that come with the buses.
"We've been working with UTA for several years on what we could do to solve all these problems, and the solutions just haven't come," Kallas said.
Kallas said mall officials will continue to work with UTA officials on solutions. Moving the buses off mall property might only be temporary if the two parties can reach some agreements.
"We're not closing the door to negotiations for another location. We're totally supportive of mass transit," Kallas said.
With a two-week deadline facing them, however, UTA officials are busy trying to secure a temporary drop-off point until a permanent transit site near the mall is developed.
"This has a big impact on the system in Utah County," UTA Director John Pingree said. "We have to get it resolved."
Randy Park, a UTA planner, said the bus line has known for some time that mall managers want the bus stops relocated. But it's not easy for a nonprofit entity to purchase or lease prime commercial property - like that surrounding the mall.
"There's no way we can compete with bidders for the kind of property we need," he said.
However, Bill Baranowski, transportation engineer for Mountainlands Association of Governments, said about $250,000 in federal funds has been set aside for several years to help UTA purchase land and construct a new mall-area transit site. Last year, the amount was increased to $500,000.
Mountainlands, the association responsible for distributing federal transportation money, feels it's critical to keep UTA operating from a central Utah Valley location like University Mall.
Officials at UTA say the $500,000 in federal money is not enough to purchase land and build a quality transit site.
"We'd like to have a place where we can have a nice waiting area, a kiosk with phones, some rest rooms, a customer information booth and a place where they sell bus passes. We think most people would walk 400-600 feet to the entrance of a mall, so we've got several options we're trying to work out," Park said.
Some fear usage of UTA bus service might drop if parents know children will be crossing a busy street to get to the mall. Orem Mayor Stella Welsh said forcing the buses out is a mistake.
"I think they are just beginning to have an impact. I would hate to see anything happen to stop them," she said.
Transit officials also might have to find a new shuttle location for fans attending Brigham Young University football games. For the past few seasons, fans could park at the mall and be shuttled by UTA buses to Cougar Stadium.