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Utah County moving forward with bus rapid transit

Transit project would link Provo and Orem, resemble light rail

PROVO — Little by little, plans for a bus rapid transit line between Orem and Provo are getting closer to reality.

The Mountainland Association of Governments board of directors recently voted to accept plans for the site of the state's first BRT system.

Bus rapid transit runs like a light rail but uses buses instead of railcars, said Chad Eccles, a MAG transit program manager.

A BRT system has lanes dedicated for its exclusive use, and buses stop at actual stations. Passengers purchase tickets before boarding the buses, which travel faster than normal buses and run more often — about every five or 10 minutes.

Once completed, MAG anticipates an initial ridership of 13,000-14,000 riders per day, a number the metropolitan planning organization expects to increase to as many as 17,000 riders per day.

"We have a population of 50,000 students on the corridor," Eccles said. "It will move people, and people will want to ride it."

A BRT line between Orem and Provo has been in MAG's long-term plans for quite some time, Eccles said. The approved plans call for the bus rapid transit line to run from an intermodal center west of Utah Valley University, around BYU to downtown Provo and down to the Novell campus in south Provo.

"This has the potential to become a piece of a future transportation spine," Provo Mayor Lewis Billings said.

The project is currently in the middle of an environmental assessment. Once that work is complete in December, MAG will submit applications to various federal agencies seeking approval and funding. With approval, MAG can move forward on preliminary engineering and design plans.

MAG has sufficient funds to pay for the design of the project, but it will need federal funding — including stimulus money — to complete the project.

"Right now, with the stimulus money that's out there, we think there's some good potential," Eccles said. "The Obama administration is really looking positively on transit projects. … We might be able to get some federal money to move this forward."

Eccles said MAG would like to have the BRT line in place by the time commuter rail makes its way to Utah County in late 2012 or early 2013, but that may not happen.

"BRT is an integral component in bringing people from the commuter rail into the communities, into where they want to go in Provo and Orem," he said.

In anticipation of the project in Utah County, MAG took Orem and Provo city officials to Eugene, Ore., to see that city's BRT system. Other areas with functioning BRT systems include Cleveland, Las Vegas, Oakland and Orange County, Calif. A BRT system is currently being developed in Phoenix as well.

While the Utah County BRT line is presently a stand-alone project, Eccles said there is opportunity the project could be expanded north and south of the county in the future.