Weber County mayors say that the Utah Transit Authority is ignoring how they want to spend increased sales taxes for transit and roads that local voters approved in 2015.
So the city leaders persuaded lawmakers on Tuesday to take a first step to give them — not UTA — direct power over how to allocate that money in the future.
The House Political Subdivisions Committee voted 8-1 to approve HB339 and sent it to the full House for consideration.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, sponsor of the bill, said state law allows local mayors and county commissioners to develop a priority list for how they want to use higher transit taxes from 2015’s Proposition 1. He said the Weber County Council of Governments did that, but UTA so far has ignored it.
Toby Mileski, former mayor of Pleasant View who was just appointed to the UTA Board, said UTA has used Prop 1 money so far in Weber County for such things as improving bus stops and increasing some bus service.
Require the Utah Transit Authority to use new transit taxes collected in Weber and Davis counties according to the priorities of mayors and county commissioners. - Read full text
But he said most Weber County mayors “would like to see the majority of the Prop 1 funds used for and fund a BRT [bus rapid transit] project in Ogden” from its downtown to Weber State University.
A BRT is sometimes called a “TRAX on rubber wheels” with its own road lanes, extra-long buses with multiple doors, limited stops and ticket machines for rapid service.
That “would greatly economically benefit the county,” Mileski argued.
The bill would require UTA to follow the priority lists developed by local public officials in counties that have passed Prop 1. Within the UTA service area, counties that passed Prop 1 are Weber, Davis and Tooele. Salt Lake, Utah and Box Elder counties rejected it, largely over concerns about scandals at UTA.
Matt Sibul, government relations director for UTA, said that agency has been listening to local leaders about Prop 1 money. “We have been working very collaboratively with our partners on how those dollars should be spent.”
He said UTA is committed to building the bus rapid transit project that the mayors want, but is trying to figure how to raise all the money needed. “We’ve made that clear over the past several years. It’s a great project.”
In the meantime, he said the community has been pushing hard for expanded bus service — and UTA is trying to provide more with Prop 1 money, even if mayors want the BRT more.
“We continue, I guess the best term is, to negotiate with policymakers on how funding can come together from all sorts of sources for that bus rapid transit project, and we’ll continue to collaborate as we always have done,” Sibul said. The bill would essentially end negotiations and order UTA to do what mayors want.
The bill comes as legislators are proposing much more drastic changes designed to restore trust in the scandal-scarred UTA. That includes a proposal to replace its current part-time, 16-member board with a full-time, three-member commission designed to better oversee UTA executives.