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The Utah Transit Authority Board on Wednesday approved a general plan on how it would spend money from a proposed sales-tax hike for transportation. A major focus is expanding its bus service.
A board resolution said it will continue to work in an "open, transparent and public process" to fill in the plan with specifics about spending on individual bus and train routes.
The UTA estimates that its revenues could increase by 13 percent, or $39 million a year if voters approve Proposition 1 on Nov. 3. It would increase sales tax by a penny for every $4 in purchases.
In the six counties served by UTA, the transit agency would receive 40 percent of that tax money. The rest would go to cities and counties for local road projects.
UTA "cannot and will not advocate" for the tax, according to the resolution the board passed unanimously. But it "desires to be responsive, open, transparent and forthright in providing factual information about how the authority" would use the tax money.
The general plans approved Wednesday include:
Emphasize bus service • UTA will "give primary focus and priority to improvements in bus service and technology. Some changes in rail service will be made to meet demand and to coordinate with bus schedules," the board resolution says.
"We heard that request loud and clear" from the public, said board member Charles Henderson.
That promise comes after state audits and critics have complained that UTA had to cut significant portions of its bus service in recent years to fund new expansions of its TRAX and FrontRunner rail systems.
Increase bus frequency • The resolution said UTA "will examine and increase the frequency of service on many routes, making it easier for riders to utilize and connect with the transit system."
Offer later, earlier service • UTA "will extend many routes later into the evening, and some earlier in the morning, to allow transit patrons to better connect to jobs, education, entertainment and community activities," the resolution said. Plans also call for an expansion of weekend service.
Improve access to transit stops • UTA promised to help improve sidewalks, paths and trails to help patrons get to transit stops. It also calls for "expanding the number of shelters and improving accessibility at bus stops."
Help the needy • UTA vows to "expand its programs and services to assist human-services agencies that provide transportation as part of their activities."
More facilities, equipment • UTA "will acquire and construct whatever equipment and facilities may be necessary" to provide the other parts of the plan.
The agency also promised to work with the public and stakeholders "to determine the routes and locations that will get enhanced service and amenities."
It also vowed to equalize expanded services "consistent with the proportion of tax dollars received from the counties in which the tax is levied." It promises to report on that effort annually.
Some groups appeared at the board meeting to praise or criticize the general plan.
"A lot of people are going to benefit from the increased services," said Linda Johnson, representing both the Breathe Utah clean-air group and the Crossroads Urban Center that serves the poor.
She said she hears often from people who say they would ride transit more if it came more often, came on weekends or offered more bus shelters. "You fix all those things," she said.
But Christopher Stout, president of the Utah Transit Riders Union, said a lack of more specifics in the plan makes it difficult to trust UTA. He said its long-range plans still include many expensive rail or bus rapid-transit projects, and he worries tax money could shift to them instead of neighborhood bus service.
"What we would like to see is a guarantee from UTA that these funds would be spent on specific routes and specific items" listed before the election, he said.
Stout said anything less "is going to be a problem because UTA is still on shaky ground with the public. We're still thinking about [high] salaries. We're still thinking about bonuses. We're still thinking about the trips" in extensive executive travel criticized in state audits and news accounts.
UTA President and CEO Michael Allegra, who is retiring Friday but staying on through March as a senior adviser, said UTA is floating ideas about specifics with stakeholders for feedback. But he said it would not be appropriate to adopt such specifics until UTA knows which counties pass the tax hike, and UTA knows better exactly how much money likely would be coming.
Allegra reported UTA collected 3,000 survey responses in July from riders and potential riders to help design future services.
A group of mayors, county commissioners and business leaders are scheduled to launch an "educational campaign" for Proposition 1 on Thursday in an event at the Midvale City Hall at 1 p.m. Allegra's farewell
The UTA Board gave a standing ovation Wednesday to Michael Allegra, the agency's sometimes-controversial president and CEO, who retires Friday.
It also passed a resolution praising his 37 years of service at UTA, which included the planning and construction of UTA's entire rail network through various jobs that he held there.
"We love you Michael," said board member Necia Christensen, who added that Allegra is "a champion of transit, a positive influence in our community and an all-around good guy."
Allegra was all business, and did not offer a personal goodbye during the board meeting. He only spoke on business items.
While Allegra helped UTA win an award as the best transit system in North America last year, he has been criticized for high executive pay and bonuses, extensive executive travel, and what state auditors said appeared to be sweetheart deals with contractors.
Jerry Benson, UTA's vice president of operations, will take over as interim UTA president while the agency conducts a nationwide search to replace Allegra.