County commission set to vote on BRT 3

People board a UTA bus at the Provo Intermodal Hub on Sept. 8, 2014. The Utah County Commission plans to vote Tuesday on one of the final hurdles for approving funding for the bus rapid transit, or BRT, system. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

Time is of the essence for bus rapid transit referendum petitioners in Provo and Orem seeking to be on the November ballot.

For that reason, both groups filed a motion Tuesday for summary judgment, a memorandum of support and for oral arguments with the Fourth District Court.

Tuesday’s action is meant to impress upon the court the timeliness of the matter.

BRT, or Provo-Orem Transportation Improvement Project, is an 11.5-mile bus rapid transit project between the Provo Towne Centre mall and the Utah Transit Authority intermodal hub in Orem across Interstate 15 from Utah Valley University.

The desired referendum is to allow residents to vote whether there should be a 50-year lease agreement involving just more than one mile of road between the two cities. The case against Provo includes property along 700 North and along 900 East. In Orem, it is approximately 500 feet of roadway on 400 West between 1100 South and University Parkway.

The two separate but united groups made up of Orem and Provo residents gathered signatures in April 2016 in an attempt to get the referendum on the ballot, but took the matter to the Utah Supreme Court in September after the two cities refused to refer the referendum to the ballot.

The cities argued the lease agreements are administrative not legislative, and could not be legally referred to the ballot.

The project is currently just more than 20 percent completed, according to Andy Neff, project spokesman.

“Our aim from the beginning has been to let the voters decide whether they want this project on our streets,” referendum organizer Diane Christensen wrote in an email. “The county commission should have put this to a vote of the people. Provo and Orem cities should have, all along, made a genuine attempt to learn what the residents want.

“Other than a push poll by Provo City Administration which resulted in the ridiculous claim that three-fourths of city residents favor the project, they have not connected with their constituents, some of whom are lifetime residents of Orem and Provo, who have genuine concerns about the project. Nor has Utah Transit Authority, other than to call us ‘crazy people.’”

Those signing the petition last year were signing with the understanding it was to let voters weigh in on whether the cities should sign the 50-year lease agreements or not.

However as time has progressed, it appears the referendum may be seeking more, according to Christensen.

“Residents opposed to the BRT project have cited the route, the cost, the acquisition of over 125 pieces of private property (with eminent domain already threatened by UTA in discussions with property owners), the removal of mature trees, the loss of parking on downtown streets, the absence of a need for such a robust project when buses which currently travel the proposed route are often empty, the associated transit-oriented developments that will negatively impact family neighborhoods such as Joaquin, Foothills, Wasatch and Pleasant View in Provo, and the core desire to put this project to a vote of the people,” Christensen said.

The Utah Supreme Court denied a quick judgment on Sept. 14 and referred the group back to the lower court.

According to the court order from Associate Chief Justice Thomas R. Lee, “Even assuming the court may enjoin construction on the portions of the project that would be affected by the referenda, the motions have failed to present allegations sufficient to demonstrate an emergency warranting such injunctions.”

In October, the group headed to Fourth District Court. According to the Supreme Court ruling, the petitioners should have taken their issue to district court first.

Since filing with the Fourth District Court, the two groups have been assigned judges, but not court dates.

“The Motion for Summary Judgment will hasten the resolution of this citizen-driven effort which has been an exhausting and expensive fight for many of us,” Christensen said. “We have had to battle UTA, the Federal Transit Authority, UDOT, MAG, and two city governments — all just to exercise a right to the ballot that we’re guaranteed in the Utah State Constitution.”

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire

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