BRT discussion explodes on social media

MATT SMITH/Daily Herald A bus rapid transit vehicle pulls into the UTA repair facility in Orem, Wednesday afternoon. The 60 foot long bus made the stop as a way to give people a look at what transit will look like in Orem and Provo in the next few years.

PROVO -- Tuesday's municipal council resolution eliminating Option 4 as UTA's proposed 11-mile Bus Rapid Transit project has had an unfortunate side effect. Mayor John Curtis says it has basically shut down the day-to-day work of the city while the administration looks for ways to salvage the project.

"The vote forced me into a deep analysis of the situation," Curtis said. "I asked, do I let this go? The council killed it, it's on their shoulders. But that lasted for only a moment."

"Deep down I have a resolve," Curtis said. "This city needs BRT. Therefore I can't let it go."

By Monday, UTA should expect a complete plan from the mayor as to how his administration will proceed in saving the BRT Option 4 project.

"We must validate that the city wants this," Curtis said. "All of us want BRT rather than a specific option. The agenda is to get BRT."

Curtis said he believes Option 4 -- the 900 East loop around BYU -- is the best option but in a spirit of cooperation says if he can be convinced otherwise he will consider it.

To do that he will be enlisting the help of several organizations, groups and civic clubs and stakeholders.

"The mayor is reaching out to groups who do have interest in this," said Val Hale, president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce.

On Thursday the chamber's Board of Governors, of which Curtis is a member, voted unanimously by resolution to support Option 4. Hale said the Chamber's Board of Directors will consider the same at next week's meeting.

"This is not just about Provo," Curtis said. "It's vital to the county and part of the county infrastructure. We have a responsibility to be a good neighbor and a responsibility to the county."

It is also vital to the sister city in the project, Orem.

"Thousands of hours have been put into this effort from staff, and in the public process," said Jamie Davidson, Orem city manager. "This is at least a five-year effort. We've even modified some of our construction plans to accommodate the BRT project."

Davidson said Orem has worked with UDOT to plan for BRT as part of the University Place project.

Since the Tuesday vote, it is clear UTA officials believe the best project to take to Washington D.C. includes the 900 East option around BYU.

"The track record of UTA is stunning," Curtis said. "Per resident we have close to the best infrastructure in the U.S."

That reputation will not be tarnished according to Greg Hughes, UTA chairman of the board. Hughes had the chance to put the project in front of a Congressional hearing in December. Sitting next to him was Peter Rogoff, director of the Federal Transportation Administration.

"Some of the Congressmen on the committee also lobbied Administrator Rogoff for projects in their districts," Hughes said. "We were outpacing all involved because UTA is well known for high ridership, high efficiency, under budget, ahead of schedule transit projects. We won't tarnish that reputation or waste staff resources and time submitting an inferior grant application that we believe won't be funded."

"Last year the FTA had only $90 million for projects," Curtis said. "We want $75 million."

Curtis said he respects the council's decision, but made it clear that the municipal council is just one branch of government. He said as another branch of government, he has the right to do what he thinks is best for the city. He is also not unsympathetic to the neighbors' needs.

"There are concerns in that neighborhood that keep them up at night that the rest of the city is not aware of," Curtis said.

Communication

Curtis has met personally with all four council members who voted against Option 4 to let them know his intent and his desire to keep working with them and to continue to build good relationships between the equal branches of city government.

"We can't lose the magic," Curtis said. "I've not seen passion like this in anything we've done so far."

Curtis said he has about 30 days to prove to UTA what Provo wants.

"I feel there are many issues we'll agree upon in the future," said Kim Santiago, councilwoman. "I feel we have a good working relationship. We both agree we want BRT in Provo. We want the same end product. We just have different ways of getting there."

Santiago, who voted against a resolution supporting Option 4, said she is glad the mayor is reaching out with information.

"Anything we can do to help the public understand where we're at is good," Santiago said.

Councilman Kay Van Buren, who also voted down Option 4, said he had a good meeting with the mayor.

"He was very frank about his feelings," Van Buren. "We talked for quite a while. He wanted to be clear he is not going around the council."

Even as a two-year veteran on the council, Van Buren said he had very little exposure to the BRT project.

"When the bus stop issue came up a year ago, then BRT came out," Van Buren said. That is when he said he became more aware of the project.

Council members David Sewell and Stephen Hales, both of whom voted for the resolution against Option 4, did not return calls for this story.

Referendum

Another way residents will have a voice is through a referendum overturning the council's vote. Curtis said he will be signing it.

Councilman Gary Garrett, who favors Option 4, will also put his name behind the referendum.

"I have to sign it. How could I not? That's what I have to do," he said.

Likewise, councilman Hal Miller said, "Count me in."

"I want this," said Councilman Gary Winterton. He too will be adding his name to the referendum.

Curtis said he hopes through education residents will understand why Option 4 is the best option.

"We don't always make decisions with everybody informed," Curtis said.

Stakeholders

One group who will continue to voice their concerns and bring new options to UTA's attention are the stakeholders in the Oakhills neighborhood.

In her Tuesday presentation to the council, stakeholder spokeswoman Melissa Kendall said many people in the community are simply not well informed.

"[They] have not had the chance to evaluate things objectively due to the short time period that they have had to become educated on this and the lack of clear information made available to them, and the ultimatum attached to the project," Kendall said.

genelle-pugmire
-- Genelle Pugmire covers Provo City, Provo School District, Orem City, UDOT’s I-15 CORE Project. She also tackles variety of other topics including business features. You can contact Genelle at gpugmire@heraldextra.com.

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