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 -- Robust discussion at Tuesday's municipal council meeting didn't come from the numerous residents that spoke at the podium; it was between Mayor John Curtis and members of the council. The debate continued long into the night before the council decided to wait at least two weeks before deciding on a resolution supporting UTA's plan for Bus Rapid Transit.

Last Tuesday, a special meeting was held to bring discussion on Bus Rapid Transit. It revolved around two selected options. In less than a week a new option appeared, gaining steam with the help of Provo municipal council members Kim Santiago and David Sewell. The new option is called Option 0 and runs up University Avenue with potential non-BRT connector buses going on east.

The 11-mile UTA project is stuck on a two-mile stretch along 900 East and how UTA will service Provo. Wasatch and Oak Hills neighbors worked diligently during the past several months, vetting options with the conclusion that avoiding 900 East around the BYU campus is best for their neighborhood. The project team and other administrative leaders selected the 900 East option.

Last week, Melissa Kendall represented the Wasatch Neighborhood in supporting a route that went east and then west, south of the BYU campus.

On Tuesday, she acknowledged that the group is no longer unified and said she was representing 125 residents who have changed their choice to the Option 0 route, which would follow University Avenue nearly its entire length.

"The neighborhood is in favor of BRT," Kendall said. "To have it on University Avenue allows for growth of the system and a leverage for land development. It brings neighborhood connectors to the core."

The neighbors said they believe that option allows the families in the neighborhood to thrive in a private and peaceful neighborhood.

That said, numerous residents lined up at the podium to add their voice. Option 0 appeared to be the route of choice, and those supporting the 900 East plan still supported that option.

Speakers failed to mention the fact that Orem is a partner in this project; and the project appeared to be failing.

"It's a joint project. One decision affects the other," said Paul Goodrich, Orem's transportation engineer. "Mayor Curtis knows what he is talking about on how funding is critical. It would be a setback in trying to improve transit between the two cities. We were able to show the FTA we had a good project. Will the stars [ever] align again, who knows. BRT is really important to both cities. In my opinion it's as good, if not better than light rail."

"One thing I want to make clear," said Brian Jones, council attorney, "I feel it incumbent that the decision is not based solely on comments made tonight. The council's record is extensive and goes past what was said tonight."

"It is not Provo city's project to build BRT," Jones said. "This is a UDOT-UTA project. They have come to Provo City and asked the city council for a resolution of support of their preferred alternative, which turned into a discussion that it best meets the needs of the city. What the council has before them is a resolution of support. Ultimately it's their project. There is nothing about this resolution that binds UTA into anything."

After all spoke, and before council deliberation, Curtis went to the podium.

"I would like to look all of you in the eye," Curtis said. "Forgive me for offending."

Curtis then explained a number of issues he felt had not been discussed to his satisfaction including the funding.

"I was surprised at the resistance to BRT on 900 East," Curtis said. "It was foreign to me that it wasn't accepted. I'm trying to understand why it wasn't welcome."

He said 9th East is a busy street and it's undersized.

"Nothing that we do or say will change that at the pace were going, BRT or not," he said. "There is still going to be noise, and congestion. BRT is coming to 9th East. This project is not going away. It will come back and come back and come back."

"I think we can fix 900 East," he said, "[We can] dramatically change the nature of 900 East. Growth is coming, dramatic change is coming to 900 East. BRT gives us that rare opportunity. Finally, I'm concerned about the direction we're all going. We're headed for a train wreck."

Council member Steve Hales said UTA does not have the money to change 900 East.

"Let us be clear - we don't know what we need, it may not be all UTA money," Curtis said.

Council woman Kim Santiago said the message she was getting from neighbors east of 900 East is that they want purposeful growth.

"High density in the cool zones, let's have that development," she said. "They're not saying they don't want growth."

"Unless there is a game changer, this neighborhood will feel pressure for development and change," Curtis said. "Let's take steps to change this."

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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