UTA OKs $400M-plus construction plan that includes new airport TRAX station and Ogden bus rapid transit

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) A TRAX train at the Sandy Civic Center in Sandy on June 24, 2019. The Utah Transit Authority Board on Wednesday approved a five-year, $463 million plan for construction projects and purchases of new equipment.

The Utah Transit Authority Board on Wednesday approved a five-year, $463 million plan for construction projects and purchases of new equipment.

It includes $18.6 million to relocate the TRAX rail station at Salt Lake City International Airport amid renovations there; $91.9 million for a new bus rapid transit line in Ogden; and $48.6 million for ongoing construction of a new maintenance and fueling station in downtown Salt Lake City.

The plan also calls for $169.8 million in new vehicle purchases through 2024. It also identifies $10 million next year to double-track part of the FrontRunner train line in Utah County, in part to allow a new station in the fast-growing city of Vineyard.

The plan counts on using $70.9 million in money borrowed by issuing bonds — if the State Bonding Commission approves, a requirement recently imposed by the Legislature amid concern over UTA’s considerable debt.

That borrowing would be on top of the $2.1 billion in debt the agency has amassed essentially as a mortgage to accelerate building its TRAX and FrontRunner rail systems. Payment on that debt is UTA’s single largest expenditure each year, costing $119.6 million this year compared to the $102.1 million that UTA is spending on bus operations.

UTA Board Chairman Carlton Christensen earlier this year told the bonding commission, “We're at the capacity of our current bus facilities … so if we add service — which we've made a commitment for, and are going through the process to determine that level — we actually need some facilities to house those buses.”

Part of that effort is the $48.6 million in the plan for ongoing construction of a new facility behind UTA’s headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City. It would replace some old garages and not only expand capacity but allow the agency to buy and maintain more electric and compressed natural gas buses — in addition to its standard diesel fleet.

The plan envisions the bulk of the money for that new garage facility — $40.9 million — to be spent in 2020, with completion scheduled in 2022.

The new TRAX station at the airport is needed because Salt Lake City is spending $3.6 billion to essentially build an entirely new airport, with the first phase scheduled to open about a year from now.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The new tower and concourse is pictured Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. In less than a year the Salt Lake City Department of Airports will open the first phase of the new Salt Lake International Airport.

UTA plans to extend the TRAX line to the new terminal — but must wait for it to open so that old terminals blocking the way can be demolished. While the construction of the track extension proceeds, TRAX passengers will be shuttled by bus from the current end of the line to the new terminal.

The new station will be at ground level adjacent to the new terminal. That saves about $50 million from an initial design that had called for an elevated track that would have delivered trains inside terminal facilities at the airport.

The most expensive project in the five-year plan — at $91.9 million — is a new 5.3-mile bus rapid transit line from downtown Ogden to Weber State University and McKay Dee Hospital. Plans call for 13 stations, 1.8 miles of exclusive bus lanes and a transit center on the university campus.

Completion is scheduled for 2022.

A similar bus rapid transit route in Provo and Orem — called the Utah Valley Express that serves Utah Valley and Brigham Young universities — now carries about as many passengers on a typical day at the Green Line TRAX trains. Many attribute the Provo/Orem BRT’s popularity to its free fare, made possible by a three-year federal grant.