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(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Utah Transit Authority is exploring bus rapid transit -- like this existing one in West Valley City -- in Davis County. Estimated cost of the project: $75 million.
Provo OKs controversial bus rapid transit route
First Published May 06 2014 09:03 pm • Last Updated Aug 01 2014 08:19 pm

Provo • The Provo City Council decided Tuesday to back a controversial route for "bus rapid transit" near BYU — even though a new study it ordered found the Utah Transit Authority used some faulty data to project ridership and map that course.

The new study, however, said mistakes by UTA were not serious enough that Provo should reject the route opposed by some residents near 900 East, who argue it could lead to high-density development there and threaten safety near an elementary school.

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The study also said rejecting that route could foul up or delay federal funding for the project, and bring some high costs to redo environmental studies.

The council had voted in February to oppose the route, but in March reversed that provisionally — at the urging of UTA and Mayor John Curtis — pending results of a second-opinion engineering review it ordered of UTA’s work on the route.

Council Chairman Hal Miller said Tuesday with support of the council that after considering that second opinion study, it will let the March resolution of support stand.

However, the council hopes to consider another resolution next month to spell out mitigation along the proposed route that it hopes to negotiate with UTA.

The new review found that UTA used some incorrect data that could mean fewer-than-projected riders to BYU on the bus rapid transit (BRT) line, sort of a TRAX on rubber wheels that has stretches with a bus-only lane, requires passengers to buy tickets from machines, and has limited stations.

One problem came because UTA figured that BYU has 32,000 students and 16,000 employees. The new study said most of those employees are also students, so they were double-counted for ridership projections. It reduced the number of employees by 35 percent in its review to help solve that double-counting.

Another problem came because the study found that UTA had figured BYU students would be paying just $60 a year for UTA passes. But BYU no longer subsidizes passes for students, and they must pay $214 per semester. With higher fares, the bus route would likely have fewer riders than expected.

Even with such problems, the new study said its revised ridership estimates with corrected data "are within 10 percent of the UTA estimates," and called UTA’s work "reasonable."

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The new review added it "found no other route with significantly higher ridership or less cost" than UTA’s preferred alternative, and recommended proceeding with it.

UTA Chief Capital Development Officer Steve Meyer said the proposed route "is the best solution to maximize ridership, best serve the various communities along the route and obtain federal funding for the project. The city’s consultant has confirmed this."

But several residents complained the council was rushing forward despite finding problems with UTA data.

"The facts we were previously given were incorrect," complained resident Andrew Gustafson. "We are talking about tens of millions of dollars" for a project that may be using faulty assumptions.

The new BRT route will connect the Provo and Orem commuter rail stations generally along University Avenue and University Parkway. At the middle of the line, BRT would circle around the BYU area going up to and along 900 East.

Originally, proposals called for the route to go through the BYU campus on its private roads. However, BYU would not allow the BRT to operate on campus, so the route was changed.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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