For 12 years, a proposed bus rapid transit system from West Valley City through Taylorsville to Murray languished on the drawing board. The Utah Transit Authority could never figure how to cover its estimated cost, pegged at $84.2 million.
But now officials say they have finally cobbled together enough local money to breathe life into the project — often described as sort of a TRAX on rubber wheels.
The plan calls for getting $35.2 million from the three cities involved, along with Salt Lake County, UTA itself and the state to competitively seek a matching federal grant that would pay for 56% of the total price tag for construction and buses.
UTA officials are confident enough in landing the grant that they are even making plans to start early construction activities in 2022 and to finish the project in late 2024.
UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot told the UTA Board this week that the agency has met with the Federal Transit Agency about seeking a $47 million “small starts” grant, “and it looks favorable toward this project.”
Mary DeLoretto, UTA chief service development officer, added, “We’ve run some of the numbers and it does look like it would be competitive.”
So, the UTA Board gave a preliminary nod for steps to seek that grant, including doing a required federal environmental review for the project. It has already gone through two local environment studies, so officials expect the additional federal work to go quickly.
The new financing plan also must go to the UTA Advisory Council of local government leaders for approval, and back to the UTA Board for a final vote.
The “Midvalley Connector” bus rapid transit line would be 7 miles long between the West Valley Central TRAX station (adjacent to the West Valley City Hall) to the Murray Central Frontrunner/TRAX station. It would include 1.4 miles of bus-only lanes on the 4500/4700 South expressway.
It would have limited stations and buses would be scheduled to arrive every 10 to 15 minutes at peak ridership times. UTA estimates that it would have 2,200 to 3,100 boardings a day.
It would offer speedier service between such points as Valley Fair Mall, the under-construction Latter-day Saint Taylorsville Temple, the Salt Lake Community College Redwood Campus, Sorenson Research Park and the Intermountain Medical Center.
The system would dispense tickets from machines before boarding at limited stops, similar to a train. Buses on the route would be 50% longer than normal to carry more passengers and have extra doors to speed entry and exit.
“What a great connection this will be connecting communities, connecting the valley, and enhancing the east-west transportation,” Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson told the UTA Board this week. “We’ve been working on this for a long time.”
She foresees it attracting more development, especially along the 4700/4500 South corridor.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for new growth” there, she said. “We think that this really shifts focus, helps us plan perhaps even a new center point for Taylorsville.”
The new Midvalley Connector line would be similar to the new Utah Valley Express (UVX) bus rapid transit in Provo and Orem — which sometimes exceeds the ridership on UTA’s Green Line TRAX train. That has been aided, however, by federal grants that offered free fares on the UVX line for its first three years. That line also has quick service every six minutes at its peak.
UTA is also building a $91.9 million bus rapid transit line between downtown Ogden and Weber State University, scheduled for completion in 2022. The agency is considering other bus rapid transit lines including one to connect south Davis County with downtown Salt Lake City and is looking at their possible use to connect southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County.