Bus rapid transit is coming soon to the Wasatch Front — the question is, who'll get it first?

Before attempting to answer that question, Utah Transit Authority general manager John Inglish announced Tuesday that the expected opening date for the TRAX medical center line is Sept. 29.

Work on the latest light-rail line is about a year ahead of schedule, due in part to favorable weather conditions during construction. The $90 million spur stretches 1.5 miles from Rice-Eccles Stadium to University Hospital and Primary Children's Medical Center.

But Tuesday's talks were all about a different type of transportation.

Bus rapid transit technology operates a lot like a rail system, with designated lanes, sheltered stops and lighted signal priority when approaching an intersection. The biggest difference, of course, is that buses are the mode of transportation.

And one mile of bus rapid transit technology costs about $13.5 million — that's one-third of what it takes to bring light rail in for the same distance.

Inglish told about 100 transportation planners, consultants and city leaders on Tuesday that four destinations are first on the list for bus rapid transit: the Provo/Orem area in Utah County, 3500 South in Salt Lake County, routes to Salt Lake City International Airport and parts of south Davis County.

Currently, about 85 percent of UTA's 31 million annual riders take the bus — the rest take TRAX light rail. But there are no illusions those modes of transportation along with bus rapid transit will replace society's heavy emphasis on individual automobile use.

"We've got to supplement it in much bigger ways than we have in the past," Inglish said. Bus rapid transit — along with faster, heavier commuter rail — is a step in that direction.

"A major part of bus rapid transit is that it's not a traditional type of bus service," said Sean Libberton, a senior planner with the Federal Transit Administration.

Bigger cities like Los Angeles are already using bus rapid transit to supplement their rail systems.

UTA has partnered with the Mountainland Association of Governments in Utah County to share in the $250,000 cost of looking into bringing bus rapid transit to the Provo/Orem area.

Tuesday's meeting marked the beginning of what UTA calls its bus rapid transit program.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com