UTA seeks public comment on proposed $1.2B TRAX line through state prison site

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Utah State Prison in 2013.

Should the Utah Transit Authority build a $1.2 billion TRAX extension through the soon-to-be-redeveloped Utah State Prison site in Draper to Lehi? The agency is giving the public a chance to comment on that and other transit options for the area.

UTA said it will be taking public comments through June 1 on the website for its ongoing Point of the Mountain Transit Study (https://rideuta.com/About-UTA/Active-Projects/Point-of-the-Mountain-Transit-Study).

The website includes a video, maps and descriptions of various options under consideration to serve the area, including two possible TRAX routes, bus rapid transit lines or regular bus lines.

The UTA board last year awarded a contract for up to $800,000 to Parametrix to perform a feasibility study on whether the TRAX extension or alternates are affordable and desirable and where the best route should be.

The study comes despite promises by UTA in recent years that it would focus any extra money in the foreseeable future on expanding its neighborhood bus service and not build more train extensions — which over time created $2 billion in debt for the agency.

However, the state-sponsored Point of the Mountain Commission last year started pressing for a TRAX extension through the prison site, saying redeveloping that area could generate billions in revenue throughout the Wasatch Front “if the right steps are taken.”

A study by Envision Utah for that commission said those “right steps” include about $3 billion in transportation improvements, including running TRAX through the area and extending the Mountain View Corridor freeway nearby.

“If we fail, those 150,000 jobs [envisioned from growth at the prison site] could go somewhere else,” Envision Utah CEO Robert Grow told the commission. Envision Utah President Ari Bruening added that many employers expressed that “they are not willing to locate somewhere where there might be transit in 20 years,” but not immediately.

So, officials decided to proceed with a feasibility study. UTA is the lead agency, with other partners including the Utah Department of Transportation, Draper, Lehi, South Jordan, Sandy, Salt Lake County, Utah County, the Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Mountainland Association of Governments.

Some fancy bookkeeping is allowing UTA to so far technically keep promises it made in 2015 that it would use revenue from tax hikes to improve bus service, not build TRAX extensions. (Salt Lake County voters defeated the Prop 1 tax hike in 2015, but the County Council imposed it in 2018 after the Legislature allowed such a move without voter approval.)

Salt Lake County awarded $400,000 of its share of the transit tax hike to Draper for a transportation study, but then Draper asked the county to give the money directly to UTA as it oversees the study.

Once the current study is complete, the next task would be to find funding for the option selected, then designing and building it.