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Empty UTA garages monuments to waste, or wise investments?

Officials take the long view: Garages will eventually fill.

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"We’re so happy with plans that we are looking to something similar" at the West Jordan City Center TRAX station on Redwood Road, he adds.

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Slowdown • Meyer acknowledges, though, that UTA expected more people to be using the station and garages by now. He says he gets inquiries regularly about the empty garages and jokes, "We probably would get even more calls, but not many people use the station — so they haven’t noticed them [garages]."

The vacancies make the garages one of the few places that UTA offers long-term parking — and it has tried to promote them as an option for riders headed to Salt Lake City International Airport. The UTA board was told last week that the effort so far has attracted few, if any, additional cars.

Meyer also acknowledges that UTA originally thought development would happen long before now. "But the recession hit," he said. "That slowed things down, but it looks like it is getting back on track now."

Criticism • Watchdog Claire Geddes, a longtime vocal critic of UTA, sees the garages as a gamble with taxpayer money that UTA cannot afford.

"They are trying to act as super developers when they can’t even get transit right," she said.

"Their fares are among the highest in the nation. They have cut services. Audits say they have dangerous amounts of debt. And what do they do? They spend $15 million on garages that no one is using. They should get back to basics," she said.

Geddes worries that something more nefarious than waste may be afoot and questions if UTA may be rewarding well-connected developers at taxpayer cost.

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She notes that Boulder Ventures Development, UTA’s choice for the Jordan Valley station, is owned by Jeff Vitek. He has had ties to developer Terry Diehl, a longtime UTA board member who was ousted amid questions of cozy deals with the agency.

A legislative audit asserted that Diehl violated state law by misusing official information about the location of a commuter rail station in Draper by buying rights to develop land around it.

Diehl sold his development rights to Vitek, and auditors later said Diehl made "millions" on it, although Diehl said he made little after covering his costs.

UTA Board Chairman Greg Hughes said the board pressured Diehl into resigning in May 2011 to stop him from continuing to develop land around transit stops while serving on the board. To convince Diehl to go, the board waived the usual yearlong ban on former board members from doing business with UTA.

Diehl has since acknowledged he was exploring development opportunities around transit stations.

Vitek did not immediately return phone calls for this story.

Geddes says questions need to be answered.

"Why are they out to help developers?" she asks of UTA. "What else could they have done with that money? Someone needs to reel them back to their basic mission."


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