The state’s first all-electric bus rapid transit system is coming to Ogden via a $120 million project that officially broke ground Tuesday and was celebrated by officials from Utah Transit Authority, the city of Ogden and Weber State University.

Thanks to a grant, there will be free fare for riders the first three years of the service, which is expected to begin in 2023.

The 5.3-mile UTA service will feature 11 all-electric buses, electric charging stations and will ferry riders to 13 stations in Ogden. It will connect the Weber State University community with McKay-Dee Hospital, the Dee Events Center, and downtown Ogden attractions that include 25th Street and The Junction.

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, combines the capacity and speed of light rail with the lower-cost construction of an integrated bus system.

Hal Johnson, UTA’s project manager, said when the project was first envisioned 22 years ago, transportation officials were exploring the idea of running a gondola from downtown Ogden to Snowbasin Ski Resort.

While street cars and express buses were also explored as possible options, Johnson said the best option has always been bus rapid transit.

A bus with Weber State University’s logo is pictured at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Ogden/WSU bus rapid transit system at Weber State’s Browning Center in Ogden on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Ann Millner, former WSU president and now Utah Senate majority whip, said the project had been a discussion point for two decades, even as she led the university.

“This project is an example of persistence. It is the persistence of people who could capture the vision of this project and the difference we could make for people in this community,” she said.

Construction begins this spring, ushered in by the groundbreaking ceremony held on the west side of WSU’s Browning Center.

A Federal Transit Administration Small Starts Grant will pay for 65% of the project, while the rest is being funded by project partners.

Once operational, riders will be able to hop on the electric buses every 10 to 15 minutes during weekdays and every 15 to 30 minutes on weekends.

“The bus rapid transit line is a vital component to our transportation infrastructure that supports our growing community,” said Ogden City Mayor Mike Caldwell.

“Community connectivity will be greatly enhanced and development along the transportation corridor will benefit our residents for decades to come.”

WSU President Brad Mortensen said having the dedicated transit route available to students provides an “eco-friendly alternative” to help clear the air and minimize the impact of commuters in adjacent communities.

The university has been active in the arena of sustainability for years, both in academics for its students and in campus-wide initiatives to bring down emissions of buildings.

Weber State University mascot Waldo shoves a shovel into dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Ogden/WSU bus rapid transit system at Weber State’s Browning Center in Ogden on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Waldo was joined at the ceremony by officials with the Utah Transit Authority, the city of Ogden, WSU and McKay-Dee Hospital. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In 2016, the Davis campus unveiled its largest solar project, spanning seven acres and generating 100% of the campus’ electrical needs.

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The construction partners on this latest move toward greater sustainability is the firm Stacy and Whitbeck, which has already started work in some areas along the route.

UTA is currently doing environmental studies to investigate the possibility of other rapid transit service from south Davis County into Salt Lake City, in addition to other possible routes in Salt Lake County and Utah County.