Provo-Orem transit project is full steam ahead as opponents drop legal challenges

Group was trying to get issue on the November ballot.<br>

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gove Allen holds a protest sign on the grounds of the Provo Recreation Center in Provo, Thursday June 2, 2016. People pushing a petition seeking to stop a controversial transit project said then that the police have been chasing them off public property at the Provo Recreation Center. Groups have now abandoned legal challenges of that project.

Citizens groups have abandoned legal challenges aimed at halting a controversial $190 million bus rapid transit (BRT) project in Provo and Orem, after a 4th District judge ruled Monday against one of their two lawsuits.

The groups had delayed appealing a similar loss in a sister lawsuit to await the outcome of the second one. Now they say it is too late to appeal both in time to qualify to put the anti-BRT measure on the November ballot for voters to decide — so they are dropping legal challenges.

“This process has been frustrating and disheartening for Orem and Provo residents who support and signed our two referenda” seeking to allow voters to possibly halt the transit project, said Diane Christensen, one of the organizers.

On Monday, Judge James Brady ruled that when the Orem City Council last year approved a no-cost 50-year lease to allow the Utah Transit Authority to use some city streets for the project, that was an administrative act — not legislative.

The Utah Constitution allows residents to collect signatures to force an election about overturning any legislative action by a city council. But administrative acts are exempt from challenge by referendum.

Groups in Orem and Provo had gathered enough signatures to put the question of overturning the leases on the ballot, but both cities rejected them arguing — now successfully — that they were administrative actions not subject to referendum.

In April, Judge Samuel McVey issued a similar ruling in a sister case that challenged similar actions and a lease by the Provo City Council.

Citizen groups challenging the leases originally filed with the Utah Supreme Court. However, the high court rejected the lawsuits, ruling that plenty of time was available for a district court to consider them before this November’s municipal election.

“We thought this would be resolved last October with our petition to the Supreme Court,” Christensen said. “But the high court chose to refer this to the district court, which lengthened the process by 10 months.”

The BRT project they sought to halt already is under construction. UTA describes it as “TRAX on rubber wheels,” where passengers buy tickets from machines in advance. Extra-long buses would have bus-only lanes for about half their 10.5 mile route. Buses may receive priority at traffic signals and would come about every six minutes at peak travel times.

Opponents complain BRT is too expensive, would have too few riders and road redesign for the buses will increase congestion for other types of traffic.

The BRT route in Provo and Orem will include Utah Valley University, University Mall, Brigham Young University, downtown Provo and the Provo Centre mall.

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