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Michael Allegra, the sometimes controversial president and CEO of the Utah Transit Authority, announced Wednesday that he will retire Aug. 28.
He will remain available as a senior adviser to UTA Board Chairman H. David Burton through March 2016, continuing to receive his salary, and the board will begin a national search for a new transit executive to lead the agency.
Allegra, 62, will receive no bonuses or special end-of-service payments, but Allegra qualifies for UTA's retirement plan based on years of service. Spokesman Remi Barron did not say how high payments will be.
During the transition after Allegra's departure, UTA Vice President of Operations Jerry Benson will serve as interim general manager.
"The board extends its deepest appreciation to Michael Allegra for his many years of exemplary service," Burton said in a written statement. "He has dedicated his career to the Wasatch Front community and we wish to thank him for his service to UTA and his devotion to public transit."
The move comes as voters are about to consider whether to approve a sales-tax increase for transportation. It would raise taxes by a penny for every $4 in sales, and 40 percent would go to UTA while the rest would go to cities and counties for roads.
Some Salt Lake County Council members, as they approved the election last week, openly worried that controversy at UTA could doom the overall measure and hurt cities and counties.
Chris Stout, president of the Utah Transit Riders Union, which has been critical of UTA, said Wednesday that Allegra's departure "is probably a calculated move by UTA to attain that additional funding" by showing changes.
"We'll have a better opinion on what his departure means when we find out who his replacement is," Stout said, and whether it is someone who will push expanding bus service as favored by his group, or someone who may pursue rail projects still on UTA's long-term plans.
Allegra also made some notable achievements at UTA.
He oversaw completion of numerous rail projects more quickly than projected, and under budget. That included TRAX extensions to West Valley City, South Jordan, Draper and the Salt Lake City International Airport; expansion of FrontRunner from Salt Lake City to Provo; and construction of the new Sugar House streetcar.
With such projects, ridership on the UTA system has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, from 24 million boardings in 1999 to 45 million boardings in 2014.
Last year, UTA achieved record ridership and was named 2014 Outstanding Public Transportation System by the American Public Transportation Association, the international organization for the transit industry in the United States and Canada.
Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie said, "Michael's efforts have enhanced and made millions of Utahns' lives better. We express our gratitude to Michael for his service, support and partnership with the business community."
However, during Allegra's administration, UTA has been criticized in state audits and news reports for alleged sweetheart deals with contractors, high executive pay and bonuses, along with extensive executive travel.
For example, Allegra's total compensation (including pay and benefits) was $402,187 in 2013, which included a $30,000 bonus.
Amid criticism, his compensation dropped by $34,579 last year to $367,608 mostly because Allegra received no bonus. UTA declined at the time to say whether lack of a bonus was the decision of UTA or Allegra, but the agency praised his work.
Just last month, Allegra was involved in controversy over a planned trip to Japan that was canceled about the time that The Salt Lake Tribune started asking questions about it after a tip.
UTA acknowledged plans for the trip only after repeated questioning and an open-records request by the newspaper. The trip also had not been approved as required by UTA rules by the full UTA Board, but instead just by its five-member executive committee.
Earlier research by The Tribune showed that in a 28-month period through late 2014, Allegra traveled out of state for his job 42 times in 28 months. Internationally, he jetted twice to Switzerland, once to Germany and another time to Montreal.
In the United States, he made eight trips to Washington, D.C., six to Denver, three each to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, along with treks to Palm Springs, Calif., New Orleans, Portland, Ore., Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Houston and Atlanta, among other places.
For nearly four decades, Allegra worked on transportation issues along the Wasatch Front.
He began his career as a transportation engineer with the Wasatch Front Regional Council, Utah's largest metropolitan planning organization, before moving to UTA. Allegra has held many positions at UTA, from manager of planning and research to director of transit development. He was appointed in 2010 as general manager, a position later renamed as president and CEO.