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Trains, buses or both? UTA wants input on transit expansion at Point of the Mountain

Travelers get off a TRAX train at the Draper Town Center stop in Draper on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The stop is the terminus of the Blue Line.
Travelers get off a TRAX train at the Draper Town Center stop in Draper on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The stop is the terminus of the Blue Line.
Kristin Murphy

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority is hoping residents will step up in the next 10 days and give their preference for public transportation for redevelopment of land at Point of the Mountain in southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County.

“We are doing this transit study to thoroughly investigate and identify the locally preferred alternatives,” said Patti Garver, Point of the Mountain Transit Study project manager. The public can submit comments online through June 1 to provide input on options to expand TRAX and rapid bus services in Draper and Lehi as part of the development of Utah State Prison land once the facility is relocated.

There are five alternatives — or “corridors” — that the public can comment on: expansion of the TRAX line south from the east side; expansion of the TRAX line west and south from the Sandy Civic Center Station and through the prison site; expansion of the bus rapid transit system east from Draper; expansion of the bus rapid transit system west from Sandy; or expansions of bus service east and west in South Jordan, Draper and Lehi.

“One of the most important things to keep in mind is this is not a study to build anything. This is a study to see what alternative will be the best fit for the community’s needs and the needs of the region,” said George Angerbauer, UTA’s public relations specialist.

Public comment will help decide which alternative is the best moving forward and help planners settle the mode of transportation, whether that is light rail, bus rapid transit or a combination of the two.

Those interested in participating have access online to planning information and materials from an open house on the project that was held last fall.

The Point of the Mountain Development Commission asked UTA to conduct the transit study in partnership with residents, local governments and agencies to determine the best way to serve the area that is seeing rapid development fueled by the tech industry.

“The more (public) input we receive, the better. It’s called the ‘locally preferred alternative’ because it’s supposed to be for residents and stakeholders,” Garver said.

It is part of a $2.5 billion effort to expand UTA services in areas that are facing critical transportation needs and speed up transportation development at Point of the Mountain because of its explosive population growth.

According to a press release from UTA, the overall goals of the project are to increase access to UTA services, support plans for employment and housing developments, support economic goals and to do so in a way that helps improve the environment.

UTA awarded an $800,000 contract to Washington-based consulting firm Parametrix to help conduct the alternative analysis study that is seeking public comment.

Once public comment closes, planners will be looking at potential refinements to the preferred plan, including creating hybrid routes of bus rapid transit and light rail. Officials will also be evaluating the remaining alternatives in greater depth.

Expanding transportation is just one small piece of a larger plan by the Point of the Mountain Development Commission to meet Utah’s growing needs as the population rapidly expands.

The commission approved a plan to address what it saw as poor outcomes expected in Utah and Salt Lake counties — such as long commutes, expensive housing and worsening air quality — as the population is expected to triple by 2065.

The commission identified and approved two scenarios that ramp up public transportation and road infrastructure while also managing planning policies to help stabilize housing costs in the area. Though the combined scenarios are pricey at $11.5 billion, they were determined to be the best options to improve outcomes in the two counties.

“Ultimately, we want to know which options would get the most ridership and would best serve this growing area. The information from this study will help inform perhaps the most critical decision to be made for this part of the state,” said Val Hale, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and co-chairman of the Point of the Mountain Development Commission.