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Top 10 of 2014 #1: Sgt. Cory Wride’s death shocks community

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh part in our 10-part series counting down the top news stories of 2014.

PROVO — The Bus Rapid Transit proposal is in the hands of the federal government and beholden to President Obama’s budget for 2016. 

The past year of getting to that point saw more stops and starts and stalls than a BRT bus.

It all began in January, when three new members of the Provo Municipal Council were installed and the questioning of the BRT project began. After more than 13 years of planning, studies and compromises, BRT was close to becoming a reality. However, as the rubber was getting ready to hit the road, some stakeholders appeared willing to let the air out of the project’s tires.

Kim Santiago, David Sewell and Stephen Hales, the freshmen on the council, raised issues with the BRT plan, saying they were concerned, along with a number of residents in the Oak Hills and Wasatch neighborhoods, that Option 4 did not meet the needs of the areas.

The BRT project team, including the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Transit Authority, Mountainland Association of Governments, Utah County and Provo’s Transportation and Mobility Advisory Committee, chose that route, which would begin at the station on University Avenue at about 500 North, and would eventually reach Utah Valley University and the Orem intermodal hub along University Parkway.

Early on, Provo Municipal Council members were given three presentations that included stakeholders asking to consider concerns centered around 900 East. Changes on the Brigham Young University campus with the closure of Campus Drive put a wrench in the opportunity to have a major BRT hub at the Wilkinson Center. That made 900 East the next best choice for the project for some, including the Federal Transportation Agency.

Provo Mayor John Curtis spent hours in negotiations and working with several mayors throughout the county to get their vocal and financial support for the project. Concerns that neighborhood leaders might thwart more than 13 years of work had him and his administration in crisis mode.

Once the BRT route is approved and on Obama’s budget, it is expected the design portion of the route will begin. Preliminary proposals have already raised concern about lost trees on University Avenue, competition with the new Rhydes buses sponsored by BYU for its students to get to and from school, and other details.

“I think that the main objective as we continue in the design portion of the BRT project is to look long term on how it can and will affect the way we utilize public transportation,” Curtis said. “It’s imperative that we nail down how it will enhance the quality of life of Provo residents.

“This includes how it interacts with automobile traffic, bikes, pedestrians, commerce and landscape.”

The recent contract BYU signed with Rhydes may play a factor in BRT ridership; that is left to be seen. Curtis is confident it will not.

“I’m excited at how proactive BYU has been as it relates to how its students navigate both on and off campus,” Curtis said. “The university is making bold decisions that we hope will increase mobility and help that portion of our population move more freely around the city.”

When council members gave push back after hearing from local stakeholders, it looked like the BRT proposal might die, and new information and proposals would have to get back to the FTA at a later time, thus closing a window of opportunity.

What stakeholders and others continually failed to mention was the fact that Orem was a partner in the project. Provo’s neighbor voted on the route and project two years earlier.

“It’s a joint project. One decision affects the other,” said Paul Goodrich, Orem’s transportation engineer, after a February stall. “Mayor Curtis knows what he is talking about on how funding is critical. It would be a setback in trying to improve transit between the two cities.

“We were able to show the FTA we had a good project. Will the stars [ever] align again, who knows. BRT is really important to both cities. In my opinion it’s as good, if not better, than light rail.”

While residents, leaders and stakeholders throughout the county awaited the Provo Municipal Council decision on Bus Rapid Transit, county mayors had already spoken. They wanted Option 4 or they wanted their money back.

Many mayors had given precious road money from their cities to the BRT project because they believed it would be the best thing for the county. But infighting had them and others all the way to the FTA in Washington wondering if the project was going to happen.

The Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG) is designated by the governor as the metropolitan planning organization for the Provo/Orem urbanized area. Their interest in BRT was $75 million strong, but only if Option 4 was the preferred route.

When it came to voting, the Provo Municipal Council was wavering and recalled a vote, then sought a second opinion on the route that was slated to cost $70,000 from the city’s rainy day fund. The research was expected to be completed in four weeks.

In the end, it cost residents $95,000, took six weeks, and the group acknowledged Option 4 was the best choice after all.

In the meantime, Orem CIty Council members revisited BRT in an August work session. They learned just what was going to happen to make the UTA buses rapid and how much construction that means to along University Parkway.

Councilman Hans Andersen vocalized his concern about losing trees and green spaces along the parkway. 

“We’re trying to keep as many trees as possible,” said Chad Eccles, with Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG). “And we are required to replace them.”

Orem project representatives are meeting one-on-one with business owners along the parkway to the intermodal hub off Geneva Road, where the BRT will stop and make the return trip to the Provo intermodal hub.

Part of the project will include expanding the UTA Timpanogos Maintenance Facility off Geneva Road and University Parkway.

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