BRT construction update 05

Cars drive along University Parkway as construction progresses Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Provo. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald

A group that has been attempting to halt the bus rapid transit project, or BRT, will be headed to district court after the Utah Supreme Court denied their request for extraordinary writ. 

The group of petitioners requested the extraordinary writ to order that a referendum be put on the November 2017 ballot. That referendum would put the question to the voters whether to let the lease agreements for a portion of the project stand.

The group, made up of Orem and Provo residents, gathered signatures earlier this year in an attempt to get the referendum on the ballot, but took the matter to the Utah Supreme Court after the cities of Orem and Provo refused to refer the referendum to the ballot. The cities argued that the lease agreements are administrative and could not legally be referred to voters. 

According to the Supreme Court ruling, the petitioners should have taken their issue to district court first.

"Petitioners have not shouldered their burden of establishing that it would be impractical or inappropriate for them to file their petitions in the district court," the court documents stated. "We, therefore, deny these petitions without prejudice."

Though this may seem like another setback for a group who was denied an injunction against the project by the Supreme Court earlier this month, two organizers of the petition group said they were in good spirits about the decision because the "without prejudice" ruling allows them to refile in district court.

Diane Christensen, one of the petition organizers, said that besides the Supreme Court outright granting their request for extraordinary writ, this was the best outcome they could have hoped for. The court could have denied the request or dismissed it with prejudice, keeping the petitioners from refiling in a lower court.

“Two of the outcomes would have ended it for us,” Christensen said.

Christensen said that district course will extend the process, but after hearing the oral arguments earlier this month, the petitioners had prepared themselves for this outcome. 

“I’m actually feeling pretty good about this” said Frank Anderson, another of the petition organizers. “I’m glad the Supreme Court is allowing us to move to district court.”

Anderson went on to say he thought that the district court process would provide more transparency of the BRT process and allow even more people to become educated on the subject.

Steven Downs, spokesman for Orem, said that it is still the city's stance that the interlocal agreement between the city and Utah Transit Authority is not a referable item. 

"The ball is in the court of the petitioners," Downs said. "It's their decision if they want to file in district court. We are prepared to respond to any legal requests."

The lease agreements provided UTA a 50-year lease on about a mile of land and other easements to complete the $190 million, 10.5-mile Provo-Orem Transportation Improvement Project between Orem Central Station and Provo's Southgate Center. It is currently expected to be completed in spring 2018.

Provo Mayor John Curtis said in a prepared statement that the Supreme Court ruling did not take anyone by surprise.

"The good news is that the process offers citizens several different options and I think our main message is one of patience," Curtis said in the statement. 

Christensen said that the petitioners’ lawyer plans to file the case in district court within 10 days. 

Katie England covers politics, county government and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

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