Free travel between Cache Valley and the Wasatch Front? Public funding could help make it happen.

The Utah Legislature gave a $5 million boost that will help the Cache Valley Transit District finish a new facility and expand service around northern Utah.

(Jacob Scholl | The Salt Lake Tribune) A bus stop at the Cache Valley Transit Hub on March 20, 2024 in Logan. This year, lawmakers gave CVTD $5 million in public funding to help finish building a new headquarters building.

This time last year, the Cache Valley Transit District was in a bind.

The free-fare transit district had just broken ground on a new $56 million, decade-in-the-making administration and maintenance facility but was short on the funds needed to finish the project.

Todd Beutler, CEO and general manager for the Cache Valley Transit District (CVTD), said the Utah Legislature denied an $8 million funding request in 2023 to fill the district’s funding shortfall. Despite the funding gap, the district went ahead with began construction anyway.

But lawmakers felt differently this year. The northern Utah transit district received $5 million in state funds this year to cover part of the remaining cost of the new building. The new headquarters will house all of the transit district’s buses and administrative offices and the state funds will cover around 10% of the facility’s overall cost, Beutler said.

The transit district has outgrown its current facility, he added, and the new building will allow the CVTD to keep up with their projected demand in the growing Cache Valley. The larger space means the capacity for more buses, more staff and, potentially, more routes.

He said the expansion also gives the infrastructure CVTD needs to accomplish a long-held goal — connecting to the Wasatch Front.

“With that expansion, we’re looking at how and when do we connect to the Wasatch Front from a transit perspective,” Beutler told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We hear that request frequently.”

In the past, Beutler said CVTD has studied whether local demand would merit that connection, but they found current ridership wouldn’t justify making those trips. Salt Lake Express, a bus line with stops across multiple western states, currently has routes from Logan to Salt Lake, but fares can be upwards of $50.

CVTD does not charge riders for any of its services, making it an appealing option for people like Utah State University students to get around. A route to Brigham City — which has Utah Transit Authority routes — would open the door for students, or anyone in Cache Valley, to take transit to Utah’s population centers.

The transit district’s desire for route expansion is tied to the county’s projected growth in the coming years. A 2022 study from the Kem C. Gardner Institute at the University of Utah projects Cache County could add nearly 100,000 residents by 2060.

The projected growth also comes with the need for expanded transit. CVTD’s funding request to the state projected ridership could grow as much as 245% by 2050, which would total 2.5 million trips every year.

As of now, construction on the new facility is ongoing, and CVTD hopes to have it finished by May 2025. Beutler credited Cache Valley’s state lawmakers for their efforts in securing the funding, particularly state Sen. Chris Wilson, R-Logan.

Wilson said earlier this month that CVTD getting its funding request granted was one of his highlights from the 2024 session.

“Todd (Beutler) does not take no for an answer, except last year, I guess he did have to take no (for an answer),” Wilson said. “But this year, we were able to get funding … that was a heavy lift.”