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Sandy • Utah Transit Authority board members Friday studied how to spend an extra $39 million a year it could receive if voters approve a proposed sales-tax increase.
Their proposals, which are still being refined, so far include doing all of the following:
• Quadruple the number of bus routes that run after 8 p.m.
• Improve the frequency of the most important and popular bus routes by 30 percent. As an example, some once-every-half-hour routes could instead come once every 15 minutes.
• Expand overall bus service by 15 percent to 20 percent by 2020 with more routes, service hours and frequency. As increased funding continues, UTA hopes to expand bus service by 40 percent to 50 percent by 2026.
• Boost TRAX service to the Salt Lake City International Airport by 20 percent. Limited hours now, especially on weekends, means light-rail service is not available for passengers with early-morning or late-night flights.
Matt Sibul, UTA chief planning officer, said the agency is focusing on improving bus service because pollin g and discussions show that is what the public and local officials favor. Bus service was reduced during the recession to help pay for expansion of rail lines.
The board discussed specific options and routes county by county at Friday's all-day retreat with several mayors and regional planners. Officials said proposals will be discussed and tweaked more in coming weeks.
Sibul said the proposed quarter-cent sales tax hike (0.25 cent per $1 dollar purchase) would increase UTA's overall revenue by 13 percent, and generate about $39 million a year for UTA including $18 million to $20 million in Salt Lake County.
The Legislature passed HB362 this year allowing counties to put the proposed tax hike on the ballot. In areas served by UTA, 40 percent of the new tax money would go to that agency for transit. Another 40 percent would go to cities and 20 percent to counties for local roads and other transportation needs.
Scores of cities statewide have passed resolutions asking counties to hold an election on the proposed increase this year. Counties have yet to decide the timing. They would need to act by early August to put it on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Sibul said that if UTA used the extra money in ways now proposed, it would boost ridership by an estimated 15 percent and eliminate 2.3 million car trips annually.
He also said that 89 percent of people who now live within a quarter-mile of current UTA routes "will see improved service. That is 1.2 million people."
Sibul said many of the new buses that would be purchased to expand service would be fueled by natural gas because it is cheaper than diesel and may help reduce pollution. UTA is also studying possibly buying electric buses in the future.
UTA President and CEO Michael Allegra said people ask if the tax increase would provide the agency with enough money for all it might like to do.
"Of course not," he said, explaining that it has a big wish list. "But it's an incremental step," and UTA is trying "to figure out how we can best capitalize on the resources that will be in front of us."
Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan told the UTA board that "there's a lot of talk" that recent bad publicity over high UTA salaries, bonuses and sweetheart deals could defeat the tax hike and cities and counties worry that money they need from the hike could be blocked because of it.
But he said showing in detail how UTA's share of the tax would be spent could overcome worry by showing "there will be better services."
Layton Mayor Bob Stevenson agreed. "We have to be very specific where the dollars are going."
Provo Mayor John Curtis told the board that the public also must be convinced that new service and routes make sense and are needed to meet growing needs. If transit is not expanded, he said, "it would be a huge mistake for us 20 years from now."