Utah to oversee major UTA transit projects under proposed bill

House Majority Leader Mike Schultz said the proposal would save Utah taxpayers billions of dollars in the future.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Transit Authority's FrontRunner train operator prepares to leave the station in Ogden on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

A Utah Republican lawmaker is proposing bill that would transfer the oversight of major transit projects currently under the Utah Transit Authority to the Utah Department of Transportation.

HB322, sponsored by Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, would allow the state to invest more funds and have more direct oversight of UTA projects that are state-funded, according to an email sent to employees Thursday evening from Jay Fox, executive director of the Utah Transit Authority, about the proposal.

“We understand that the state is poised to make a large investment in transit in the coming years ... and it’s state tax dollars, a lot of state tax dollars, and it’s reasonable to expect that they want to would want to be in an oversight position,” said Carl Arky, a spokesperson for UTA.

House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, who supports the measure, said the change would save Utah taxpayers billions of dollars in the future.

“Bringing that authority under one roof so that we don’t have UTA doing one thing and UDOT doing one thing, so that it’s being managed holistically for all modes of transportation going forward,” Schultz said during a Friday news conference. “It’s important to note that UTA will still be able to do local development, (and) capital investment projects, ... just as they had in the past.”

Arky said the transit agency has a good working relationship with UDOT.

“They’ve worked well with us. It’s been a good process and obviously, there’s been a lot of change in leadership at UTA over the years, but the constant has been the collaboration and the cooperation between the two agencies,” Arky said. “There’s no reason to expect that that won’t continue. It needs to continue.”

In other states, House Speaker Brad Wilson said that transit agencies and state transportation departments are often at odds with each other, noting that it’s not the case in Utah.

“We’re even now bringing them more closely together,” Wilson said at the same press conference. “By having UDOT execute the capital projects and the infrastructure, which they do well, I think benefits us, and it’s one of the things that I think will be a real advantage.”

One major UTA project includes double-tracking the transit agency’s FrontRunner commuter train to allow it to make more frequent service stops.

During the 2010s, UTA has been involved in several controversies over its misspending of taxpayer dollars and questionable deals with developers, which prompted the Utah Legislature in 2018 to restructure its board.

Tribune reporter Bethany Rodgers contributed to this report.