Utah Supreme Court to hear from BRT opponents

The Route 830 bus waits at the Provo Frontrunner Station. (Natalia Rogers)
The Route 830 bus waits at the Provo FrontRunner Station. (Natalia Rogers)

The Utah Supreme Court will hear arguments from opponents and supporters of the bus rapid transit project on Friday, Oct. 14 to determine if the project should be a referendum on the November 2017 ballot.

The referendum could allow voters to prevent construction on part or all of the controversial $190 million project. According to the Provo City website, the bus rapid transit lanes, part of the Provo-Orem Transportation Improvement Project (TRIP), is intended to improve traffic flow and connect Orem and Provo residents to the FrontRunner and TRAX faster and more efficiently.

The referendum refers to lease agreements between the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and the cities of Provo and Orem. The UTA will be allowed a 50-year lease to complete the Transportation Improvement Project. People opposing the project consist of Provo and Orem residents who believe the lease agreements should be put to a public vote rather than leaving discretion to local lawmakers.

Opponents of the project were denied an injunction Sept. 14 which attempted to stop the construction from happening. Provo Deputy Mayor Corey Norman thinks the opposition could be coming from a lack of understanding.

“I’ll be honest with you. Some of the folks have a clear understanding and some of them do not,” Norman said.

The bus rapid transit route would span a 10.5 mile area, including many areas near BYU. It would include connections between BYU, UVU, FrontRunner stations, shopping centers and downtown areas in both Provo and Orem. There would be several stops along streets surrounding BYU. There would also be some lanes that would be exclusively for buses, which proponents say could cut down on travel time.

The map of the planned bus rapid transit project is depicted with other planned road improvements. (Provo-Orem TRIP)

Additionally, the Provo City website states that a group of Provo residents living east of 900 East have proposed a new alignment of the lanes due to various concerns. If their new alignment is approved, it would eliminate street parking on 800 North, where many students park.

Former Provo mayor Lewis Billings criticized the bus rapid transit system and the way it is planned in an opinion editorial written for the Deseret News.

“I am not opposed to a Bus Rapid Transit system if it is well-planned, implemented effectively and found to be fiscally sustainable,” Billings said.  “The current Provo/Orem BRT plan is insufficient, out of date and it does not meet these three criteria.”

Among Billings’ concerns with the system were vehicle capacity, decreased air quality, deconstruction of trees on University Avenue, transit rider and pedestrian safety, fears that the model is based on old data, and that the system would displace the annual Fourth of July parade.

McKenna Child, a junior at BYU studying neuroscience, thinks the bus rapid transit routes is a great idea. She especially likes the idea of the bus-only lanes. Child commutes to BYU every Monday through Friday from her home in Bountiful while her husband goes to the LDS Business College in Salt Lake.

“There’s only one bus that comes from the FrontRunner to BYU campus that I know of and it’s always late because of traffic,” Child said. “If there were bus-only lanes, the bus would always be on time and that would be grand. I miss the FrontRunner all the time because the bus will show up late and then you’re an hour behind because the FrontRunner only runs every hour, so I get home an hour later than I wanted to and that’s super frustrating.”

Norman thinks that the bus rapid transit project will help to ease road congestion in Provo and Orem’s busiest areas.

“You’re going to connect two universities, you’re going to connect the MTC, and it really provides an economic spine as far as transit goes throughout the busiest areas of the county which are the Provo-Orem area,” Norman said. “If we think about what happens to 900 East during the daytime — and those aren’t just students — those are also people who have come into the community and who are going places and moving about. So 900 East is oftentimes very problematic and that’s just an example of one of the roads that we’re hopefully trying to clear up by getting some folks off the roads and onto using buses.”

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