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Almost all FrontRunner rail stations have connecting bus service so that commuters may travel home or to work without needing a car.

The station in American Fork once had bus service, too, but now does not. That has led long-simmering bitterness on transit issues to boil over between the local mayor and the Utah Transit Authority.

"I've had a running gunbattle with UTA for a long time," American Fork Mayor James Hadfield said in an interview.

He recently complained openly about it to the Utah Transportation Commission — which oversees highways, airports and rail systems — as he sought its help and mediation with issues about the FrontRunner station.

"I'm disappointed in how the city has been treated by UTA, and I am happy to say that in a public meeting and make it on the public record," he told the commission.

That public complaint — plus inquiries by the Tribune about it — led UTA officials to meet with Hadfield and iron out many differences. All are now jointly pursuing changes that may again bring buses to American Fork's FrontRunner station.

Problems begin • Disagreements between Hadfield and UTA go back a few years to when the transit agency was studying where to build its FrontRunner station in American Fork, before the commuter rail began service there in December 2012.

Hadfield says American Fork offered free city-owned land adjacent to tracks and a business park with 2,000 employees. "They said no," and chose a site instead that Hadfield contends did not fit well with the city's master plan for development.

"My point is, it doesn't matter what you have or what you plan. It's what they want, and they go for it, and then they don't have any responsibility for the things that follow," Hadfield said.

The mayor said he warned UTA that its preferred site had poor access, and buses would tear apart the small county roads there.

That is exactly what happened, he said. UTA says its buses didn't do much damage.


Bus service ends • Not long after he complained to UTA about road problems caused by buses, Hadfield said the agency halted bus service to the new station. He figured it was tit for tat.

Not so, said Hugh Johnson, UTA's regional general manager in Utah County, explaining bus service there was stopped because of scheduling problems.

"When we first opened our service on FrontRunner, the schedule had the northbound and southbound trains in Utah County passing at American Fork," he said. "It was a logical place to provide bus service, since that was a convenient spot to go either direction."

However, FrontRunner had trouble staying on schedule when it first opened. So its timetables were changed.

"The modifications moved the passing point [between northbound and southbound trains] north to Lehi, so we moved most of the bus connections to Lehi as well," Johnson said.

While nearly all FrontRunner Stations have some bus service, the American Fork station is quite far by local roads to its parking lot and platforms on the far south side of the tracks.

"So bus service there adds about five minutes of [travel time] each direction to that station," Johnson said, pointing to that as a reason bus service was dropped.

Other complaints • The mayor was also upset that UTA buses stopped serving a separate park-and-ride lot for carpoolers near Interstate 15. Express buses used to stop there, Johnson said, but that ended when FrontRunner opened and buses initially switched to serve the FrontRunner station parking lot.

At the very least, Hadfield wants UTA to remove a concrete island that buses used in the park-and-ride lot to make more spaces available for carpoolers. He said he had been told UTA had no funding for that. But Johnson said he never heard about that concern until the past week.

Hadfield, though, said he brought up that and his other concerns at regional planning meetings attended by UTA representatives, "but it fell on deaf ears."

So the mayor complained to the Transportation Commission, and asked it and the Utah Department of Transportation for help to utilize some land that UDOT owns across multiple tracks from the FrontRunner station, just off the I-15 interchange with Pioneer Crossing.

At a meeting earlier this month, Hadfield asked highways officials to look at ways of using that land to create a kiss-and-ride lot and bus drop-off on the UDOT land, which could be connected by a tunnel to the FrontRunner station.

Deputy UDOT Director Shane Marshall said his agency has been discussing with UTA potential land trades that could allow such a project.


Ironing out differences • After inquiries by the Tribune to UTA about Hadfield's complaints, Johnson and Hadfield met last week. They say they ironed out many differences.

Johnson said UTA is working with UDOT on the proposed land transfer, and agreed to seek a possible kiss-and-ride and bus drop-off there. "I'd love to have better access to the freeway from the FrontRunner Station," Johnson said.

"Now it's UTA's idea, [so] I'm sure they can come up with the money," Hadfield said.

Johnson also said UTA is willing to help remove the concrete bus island in the separate park-and-ride, to make room for more parking.

"We're making some progress," Hadfield said, adding that he apologized to Johnson "for my brashness when I addressed the transportation commission."

Still, he said their meeting and resolution of many differences may not have come without that public complaint, and resulting questions to UTA by the Tribune.

"If it wasn't for you rattling their chain, I don't think I ever would have been listened to," Hadfield said.

Johnson disputed that, saying UTA tries hard to listen to local leaders, and attempts to meet with local mayors at least once a year. "Obviously we need to pick it up a little bit, but I think we have communicated pretty well with [Hadfield]," Johnson said. Twitter: @LeeHDavidson