PROVO - After the director of the Federal Transportation Administration personally walked the Oakhills neighborhood, and after he presented his approval to Congress, Tuesday's council vote had many officials shaking their head in unbelief and shock.
Utah Transit Authority (UTA) proposed running a Bus Rapid Transit route up University Avenue then looping around the BYU campus on 900 East before heading back west on University Boulevard toward the UVU campus in Orem.
The 11-mile route hinged on $150 million -- half coming from the FTA (via UTA) and half from the Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG) -- to pay for the cost of the project.
After Tuesday's 4-3 vote to reject the proposed route in favor of another route, both UTA and MAG said they will not fund the project.
"We want to work with our cities," said Greg Hughes, UTA board chairman. "We don't want to come across with ultimatums. However, we have to be better than anyone else."
Hughes also said UTA does not want to circumvent local conditions and override the council. They will not move anything forward without collaboration.
That collaboration may come through residents who late Thursday got the signatures needed to start a referendum on the issue.
The five signatures needed came from Ryan Frandsen, Rachel Whipple, Laura Cabanilla, Courtney Kendrick and Sherrie Hall Everett. The group needs only 2,905 signatures to be on the November ballot. It would also send a message to the feds, with the number of signatures collected, that residents trump the council.
"We've hit a complete roadblock in this matter," Hughes said. "The county desperately needs this project."
County commissioner Larry Ellertson agrees. Ellertson is also a UTA board member.
"At this point in time, the project is on definite hold," Ellertson said. "I'm not ready to quit. I wish they would reconsider their actions. I would be willing to talk with them. I would welcome an opportunity to have a discussion."
Provo City Council chairman Hal Miller, who supported the UTA plan, said he is ready to call for a special meeting if it would help reverse Tuesday's vote against the plan.
"A motion to call for a re-vote must come from one of the four that voted against," Miller said. "I would revisit the vote before the next regular meeting of the council."
Council members voting for the project were Miller, Gary Winterton and Gary Garrett. Voting against the plan were Kim Santiago, Kay Van Buren, Stephen Hales and David Sewell.
Hughes said Provo's BRT project is weighed against projects across the country, and while UTA engineers and technicians are looking at the project from a non-political, data-only perspective, it is not the only consideration UTA must work with.
"We have to outpace other projects because we do it right," Hughes said, "We need on merit to secure finite funding. We don't have the option to present data that is less than it should be."
He said Utah is a red state (Republican) that has to compete with projects from blue states (Democratic) for federal dollars. Those applications are weighed by leaders appointed by President Obama.
Peter Rogoff, director of the FTA, and appointed by Obama, spent time walking the tree streets, according to Hughes.
"We spent time on the ground on those streets. I have driven with him," Hughes said. "He heralded Utah's innovation and heralded the BRT route in Congress."
Hughes said when he asked how to get the Provo project approved by the Obama administration, he was told to have the best project.
"That has been UTA and Utah's position," Hughes said "We are moving on. We cannot consider inferior routes. Everybody's upset. There's a lot of emotion. If there was a thought UTA was cavalier, it just isn't there."
Hughes isn't the only UTA board member upset with the council decision. Chris Bleak, a Utah County representative on the board said he was stunned.
"I am enormously disappointed with the decision on UTA," Bleak said. "We'll look to the leaders for the next direction."
The City of Orem, which already has infrastructure in place to accommodate the project, was watching Tuesday's vote closely.
"The City of Orem is disappointed in the decision of the Provo City Council to not proceed forward with Option 4 of the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system," said Jamie Davidson, Orem city manager. "The cities of Orem and Provo have a long tradition of working together for the common benefit of our residents. At this point, we are in discussions with UTA and other affected transportation partners to assess how this decision will impact immediate transportation needs within our community, as well as determining what specific opportunities will be lost in not moving this much-needed project forward in a timely manner."
Davidson said the city stands behind the framework that led to the recommended plan.
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