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Utah to take charge of some transit projects under new bill in the legislature

Posted at 5:25 PM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 23:16:25-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A series of massive transit projects will be taken over by the state under a bill being introduced in the legislature.

The bill, which is set to be made public soon, would have Utah's Department of Transportation oversee development of projects like double-tracking Frontrunner, expanding light rail lines and bus rapid transit instead of the Utah Transit Authority.

"Bringing transit, all modes of transportation for capitol development, under UDOT's authority," said House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.

In an interview with FOX 13 News, Rep. Schultz said UTA would run the trains and buses when the projects are done, but it would be the state that develops it.

"It needs to be done, honestly. We need to think regionally, being the fastest growing state in the nation. We need to think 10, 20, 30 years out," he said.

Some of the projects could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Rep. Schultz argued it would potentially save taxpayers billions in the long run by having UDOT oversee the development of these major transportation projects. UTA would still have the ability to develop its own projects, but the major ones with state dollars fall under UDOT oversight.

"Utah’s population is growing every day, and this means we need a comprehensive transportation system that provides safe, effective choices for all users. Our state’s leaders continue to make significant investments in improving and promoting all modes of transportation, including transit. We will continue to work with the governor, legislature and our partners at UTA in planning and preparing for Utah’s future," UDOT said in a statement.

Years ago, UTA was the subject of some blistering audits and legislative scrutiny over its management practices. Some lawmakers floated the idea of the state taking over the transit authority. Rep. Schultz, who was among UTA's critics, insisted the legislature was not instituting a slow-takeover of the agency.

"I don’t think we want, honestly, the state of Utah and the road department managing the operations and the daily business of maintenance and things of a transit line. I don’t think that’s what's best," he said. "But looking at the big, regional capitol development projects, helping them get funded, helping them get built."

Utah Transit Authority spokesperson Carl Arky said the agency did not view it as a hostile takeover, but a collaboration with UDOT.

"UTA understands the state is poised to invest a lot of money in transit going forward and they would want to have oversight," he told FOX 13 News. "They would want to be able to know where the dollars are going and the projects that are being developed. We understand that. We’re all set to work and prepared to work with UDOT to make sure everything does develop going forward because it is so important to the growth of the state."