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Get on board in Utah County

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The demonstration of a new bus in Utah County this week was a tad ironic. County officials there keep dragging their heels when, in a figurative sense, the bus already is pulling away from the station.

While Utah County folks are speculating over maybe considering the possibility of perhaps starting a scaled-down version of a rapid-transit system using buses, folks way up in Clinton and Roy already are seeing workers break ground for a new commuter rail system that within three years will begin carrying people at fast speeds through Salt Lake, Weber and Davis counties. Utah County opted not to allow its residents to even vote on whether to be included in that system, despite a growing and visible need.

A famous movie many years ago popularized the line, "If you build it, he will come." But when it comes to transit and highways along the Wasatch Front, the first part of that maxim doesn't apply. People will come regardless of whether anything is built. The question is whether they will be able to move around once they get here.

Commuter traffic already is backing up around the I-15 Alpine/Highland interchange and at points south near Provo and Orem. A population boom will continue to put pressure on roads and highways with little hope for relief. Before long, the congestion will begin to hurt economic development as people worry about moving themselves and commerce back and forth to the Salt Lake area.

Utah County commissioners, famous for holding the line on taxes, say they don't want their constituents to begin paying today for a system that wouldn't be up and running until 7 to 10 years after it is approved. But that line of reasoning ignores the fact that residents 7 to 10 years from now will be paying for the lack of foresight of leaders today.

This week's demonstration was arranged by the Utah Transit Authority. The bus was on its way to California, where it will become part of a rapid-transit system. Unlike traditional buses, it has the look and feel of a light-rail train.

To become effective, a rapid-transit system has to be regular and reliable. TRAX is popular precisely because its trains come every 15 minutes without delay. But installing that sort of a system — even one that uses buses rather than trains — takes money and planning.

Right now, UTA offers a limited number of buses each day to and from Salt Lake County. Given the amount of traffic each day between the counties, by students and workers, a frequent and regular schedule would no doubt attract a lot more riders. The county itself needs to demonstrate its interest by agreeing to a tax increase.

Commuter rail would, of course, provide the sort of regular service that is needed. Unfortunately, the first phase of that one has already left the station, too.