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UTA updates lawmakers on expanded service

‘Busy 8 months,’ agency reports

A UTA bus and TRAX train move through Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
FILE - A UTA bus and TRAX train move through Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The three members of the restructured Utah Transit Authority board told state lawmakers recently how new funding is being used along the Wasatch Front to increase bus routes and other services, and promised more improvements are coming.

“A busy eight months,” is how the presentation described the transit agency’s transformation since a new state law took effect, creating a full-time board of trustees that provides oversight on a daily basis to replace what had been a 16-member board that met monthly and providing new funding options.

UTA is currently under federal monitoring as part of a nonprosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the federal investigation into transit development deals and received a largely positive first report in early August from the San Francisco attorneys hired to ensure the agency complies with the terms of the deal.

The federal monitoring did not come up during the UTA board’s presentation Aug. 21 to the Utah Legislature’s Transportation Interim Committee. Instead, the trustees — Chairman Carlton Christensen, Beth Holbrook and Kent Millington — focused on highlighting expanded services.

That includes improving over half of the agency’s bus routes in August, including new routes in Salt Lake and Weber counties, more buses in Tooele County and increasing service to the Lehi Technology Corridor, also known as Silicon Slopes.

Salt Lake City is using proceeds from a 0.5% sales tax increase allowed under the sweeping state law overhauling UTA and approved by the City Council in May 2018 for a new frequent transit network along 200 South, 900 South and 2100 South, utilizing new electric zero-emission buses.

In Davis, Weber and Tooele counties, where voters approved a similar tax increase in 2015 that was defeated in Salt Lake County, trustees cited services starting in 2016, including more frequent service, midtown trolley service in Layton, Farmington and Ogden, ski bus service from Layton to Snowbasin, and covered bus stops.

Planning is starting for a bus rapid transit system between south Davis County and Salt Lake City, and a bus rapid transit system connecting the Ogden FrontRunner train station and Weber State University is in the final stages, Holbrook said.

In Tooele County, Millington said UTA has already seen “really a big increase in the number of riders” since service on a route to Salt Lake City increased from one to five buses both morning and evening in early August. thanks to a building bought to house a bus facility, purchased with the help of a $1.4 million federal grant.

Millington said in Utah County, the UVX bus rapid transit system has “been very successful” in its first year of operation, carrying an average of 10,000 riders a day during the school year for BYU and the Utah Valley University and an average of 7,000 in the summer.

UTA’s new executive director, Carolyn Gonot told lawmakers she was already meeting with employees and riders in her first days in the new post. Gonot, who worked 23 years in transit in California’s Silicon Valley, said he was looking forward to providing more service and expanding to high-growth areas.