Controversial Utah County transit project now faces $11M cost overrun

Some UTA members not happy they heard about it through a Facebook post by an outsider.<br>

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the Utah Transit Authority Board heard Wednesday that a controversial bus rapid transit project in Utah County now faces an $11.3 million cost overrun.

A long-controversial $190 million bus rapid transit (BRT) project in Provo and Orem — now 50 percent complete — is facing a projected $11.3 million cost overrun.

That unplanned expense could create political problems for some of its staunch supporters. That includes Provo Mayor John Curtis, who is running for Congress, and UTA Board co-chairwoman Sherrie Hall Everett, a candidate for Provo mayor.

Some UTA board members learned of the problem not from agency executives, but through a Facebook post by Utah County Commission Chairman Bill Lee.

“This is seriously concerning to me,” board member Brent Taylor wrote on Facebook, “when a Facebook post from someone outside UTA is the first time I learn about a very significant projected cost overrun on UTA’s largest construction project of the decade.”

Taylor asked UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson for an explanation at a UTA board meeting on Wednesday.

Benson said the BRT project is not overseen just by UTA, but by an executive team with representatives of project partners from Provo, Orem, Utah County, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Mountainland Association of Governments.

He said UTA officials were preparing to inform the board of the problem, when Lee — one of the executive team members — posted about it on social media.

“We have agreed to a shared oversight of this project,” Benson said. “It takes a little more time, but it is a good way to build trust with those partners.” He said decisions on change orders and how to handle the cost overrun go to that team first, and it will recommend steps on how to handle it back to the UTA board.

Steve Meyer, UTA director of capital projects, said the cost overrun came, in part, because “property values along that corridor are up significantly,” so the project had to pay more to obtain rights of way.

Also, “The construction market is really hot right now, so our construction costs have been higher than projected.”

He said the overrun of $11.3 million is projected if all earlier planned enhancements to project are included, and the executive team will consider whether to come up with extra money or reduce spending in some areas.

Meyer said funding is available to handle the overrun. Benson told the UTA board the executive team may also discuss whether other partners in the project might contribute toward the amount.

Meyer noted that Curtis, the Provo mayor running for Congress, is a member of the executive team overseeing the project. Curtis also strongly pushed for it while some citizen groups fought against it, arguing it was too expensive, would have too few riders and would increase congestion for other types of traffic.

Citizen groups recently lost a court battle seeking a ballot referendum to block the project.

Bus rapid transit is described by UTA 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.

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

Of the project’s total initial projected cost of $190 million, $150 million was for transit work and $40 million was for additional highway enhancements by UDOT at the same time.