Utility work ahead of BRT project to close Provo intersection

Road closed signs are positioned around the intersection of 700 North and 700 East a block south of the Brigham Young University campus in Provo on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. The intersection was among those set for utility work related to the bus rapid transit project. RYAN OLSON, Daily Herald

Provo and Orem residents seeking an injunction to stop the bus rapid transit project were denied Wednesday by the Utah Supreme 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.”

The petitioners' request for injunction states, “If allowed to proceed petitioners will suffer irreparable constitutional harm since they have a right that the referendum be presented to voters before the law takes effect.”

It is also claimed in the document that the cities are seeking to render the referendum moot.

"We are disappointed but not entirely surprised because the burden to prove 'immediate harm' is a tough one," said Diane Christensen, referendum petitioner. "We are more optimistic about the writ for extraordinary relief."

Earlier this spring, residents from both Provo and Orem gathered petitions seeking to have a referendum on the November 2017 ballot, allowing voters the right to say whether the project's 50-year lease agreements should stand. Those agreements for the project, also known as the Provo-Orem Transportation Improvement Project, include the leasing of just over a linear mile of land, portions of the landscape and design of the project and more.

The $190 million project calls for a 10.5-mile-long route between Orem Central Station to Provo's Southgate Center in Provo via Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University and Provo Central Station.

Both Provo and Orem city recorders told the residents the petitions would not be referred to the ballot because the lease agreements are administrative, but they were allowed to gather names. Attorneys from both cities have filed arguments with the court explaining the lease agreements and what the cities believe are administrative issues. 

By law, interlocal agreements are considered administrative and are not referable.

With that denial, the only thing the Supreme Court will entertain on Oct. 14 will be whether the referendum can be referred to the November 2017 ballot. They will determine if the lease agreements made between the two cities and Utah Transit Authority are administrative or legislative.

Frank Mylar, attorney and counsel for both Provo and Orem petitioners, said it is the cities that have the power to stop the construction if ruled by the courts. UTA is not named in the court documents and intends to continue construction.

“The citizens are trying to halt it in the cities,” Mylar said at the time the injunction was filed. “In Utah there is parallel jurisdiction to the citizens. That’s powerful. Utah is one of the few states to allow that.”

Today’s denial is a setback for the referendum. Following the court order, representatives for Orem and Provo focused on the project's potential to address growth.

"Regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court decision, we still live in a county that is projected to double in the next 20 years," said Steven Downs, Orem spokesman. "Addressing that kind of growth requires all types of transportation improvements. That includes new roads, widening of roads, public transportation and others."

"We’re appreciative of the process and particularly to those citizens who petitioned the court. This was an important step for everyone," said Corey Norman, Provo spokesman. "Now that we know the injunction has been denied, it’s our hope we can turn our collective focus and energy to what we anticipate being an incredible project that will add value to the community as it provides another tool to address future growth."

Construction work has begun on the project along the University Parkway and at 700 North in Provo, and referendum supporters were hoping to stop that construction until voters could have a say next year.

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

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