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Study proceeds exploring a state takeover of the Utah Transit Authority

Posted at 4:16 PM, Dec 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 19:37:48-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A study is under way to explore whether the state of Utah should take over the Utah Transit Authority.

The quasi-government UTA, which received millions in taxpayer dollars, has been under federal oversight and received significant scrutiny on Utah's Capitol Hill in the wake of audits that found financial and ethics issues.

Tucked into a bill passed by the legislature was a study to look at putting the agency under Utah's Department of Transportation. Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, who ran that bill, said in a recent interview that they are merely exploring the issue.

"Should UTA be a state agency? Is it more efficient? More effective? Does it save money, does it cost more money?" he said.

The Utah State Legislature's Interim Transportation Committee was updated on that study at its November meeting. So far, dozens of interviews have been conducted involving UTA, UDOT and others. UTA has been cooperating with the study, with results due in Spring 2020.

Speaking to FOX 13 after that meeting, UTA Board of Trustees Chairman Carlton Christensen pointed out that changes have been made.

"I think we’re making some substantial changes. There clearly would be some challenges if they happen to continue down and pursue that path that are complicated. But those will come out in the study and I think it’s a little more of a wait and see," he said.

There are some big challenges to putting UTA under state control. Rep. Adam Robertson, R-Provo, pointed out UTA's large debt load from its many transit projects that could harm the state's credit rating.

There are also at least 14 different local tax agreements between cities and UTA and collective bargaining agreements with employees that would have to be addressed, the Interim Transportation Committee was told.

In 2017, a task force recommended against a state takeover of UTA. Lawmakers have apparently allowed a study to continue.

Sen. Harper said he did not have a position on whether UTA ought to be folded into UDOT, but he wanted the study to continue to give lawmakers some better insight.

"I’m looking forward a fairly honest and robust discussion in the future of what should happen with UTA," he said.

Christensen said UTA was very willing to share its side. But he said he preferred they remain a separate authority.

"We want to be collaborative in giving the right information," Christensen said. "Once it comes to that time we’ll make our case if there’s a need to."