Bus Rapid Transit

Bus Rapid Transit

Provo City and UTA have been working for a long time on getting a Bus Rapid Transit system in Orem and Provo. It’s one of the several modes of transportation that would connect at the intermodal hub near Downtown Provo. It would have stops at or near UVU, the University Mall in Orem, BYU, Downtown Provo, and the Provo Towne Centre.

The future of Provo’s transportation will be discussed tomorrow night. The way we operate moving forward in the context of transportation – getting around town, parking, future congestion, air quality — could receive a huge endorsement or could see succumb to proverbial speed bumps.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 28 from 6-9 in the Council Chamber, a discussion will take place on the merits of Bus and Rapid Transit (BRT) and the alignment plans for Provo. This will be an opportunity for residents to come and listen to comments and presentations that will educate and outline what’s happened and why the conclusions have been reached by the interested parties.  My hope is that we’ll learn about the importance of taking public transportation in Provo to the next level and the problems a robust system has the potential to solve.

Presenters will include plans and feedback from Utah Transit Authority (UTA), Provo’s Transportation and Mobility Advisory Committee (TMAC), and the BRT Area 1 Stakeholder Working Group. Following the presentations there will be a panel discussion led by Council Member Gary Garrett. Members of the public are encouraged to offer feedback by connecting directly with their Council representative.

Please read through the Frequently Asked Questions below:

 

The Project in General

What is the project?  The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) are proposing to build a bus rapid transit (BRT) system through Provo and Orem.  The Provo-Orem BRT is a multimodal project that addresses transit as well as roadway infrastructure needs.  The preferred alternative, as defined through the environmental assessment process, completed in 2011, connects the Orem Intermodal Center, Utah Valley University, the University Mall area, Brigham Young University, high density student housing areas, downtown Provo, the Provo Intermodal Center, the Provo Towne Centre Mall and the East Bay Business Park.  The buses will travel about half of the route in dedicated lanes with signal prioritization.

Why BRT instead of light rail?  BRT is often called “light rail on rubber tires.”  The cost of building a BRT route is about 1/3 the cost of light rail due to high infrastructure costs.  BRT is expected to have about 13,000 riders per day and will traverse the route in about 38 minutes.  At its capacity, BRT will take some 5,000 car trips off the local roadways, decreasing congestion and pollution.

Why will people ride BRT?  BRT buses are expected to run in 5-7 minute intervals during peak hours and 10-15 minute intervals in non-peak periods.  The proposed route allows BRT to travel the distance in  5-10 minutes less than can be traveled by car.  BRT is fast, in part, because fares are paid off the vehicle at stations or via prepaid fare cards.  The BRT stations have elevated platforms, so riders enter the buses without climbing steps, speeding the on and off boarding process.  With vehicles coming in short intervals and connecting to FrontRunner, local buses and key destinations in Provo and Orem, riding mass transit in the Provo-Orem area will be more convenient than ever.

How much will BRT cost and where will the money come from?  The BRT project is estimated to cost $150 million.  About half of the cost will come from the Federal Transit Administration, whose program is capped at $75 million per project.  The local match of $75 million will come from transit taxes already being paid and collected in Utah County.  Any funding required beyond the current estimated $150 million will be in excess of existing transit tax funds collected and would need to come from other sources like bonds, taxes or fees. In addition, the Provo-Orem BRT project is competing with other transit projects across the United States for these grants, and route changes, lack of community support and increased costs can significantly hurt the chances that the project will be funded at the federal level.

How was the preferred alignment established?  UTA, UDOT, Provo City, Orem City and the Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG) conducted dozens of public outreach meetings between 2008 and 2011 during the process of preparing the Environmental Assessment (EA) for this project, which is required if a community is seeking federal funding for the project.   Hundreds of area residents and business owners participated in scoping meetings, open houses, and public hearings.  The process culminated in the issuance of the EA in 2011, and resolutions from UTA, the Provo and Orem City Councils and MAG to adopt the locally preferred alignment.

Will the BRT hurt Provo and help Orem economically?  Most of the major shopping areas in both communities will have BRT stops (University Mall, Provo Towne Centre Mall, downtown Provo, ShopKo and Walmart Neighborhood Grocer).  In addition, larger employment centers in Provo and Orem will be connected to BRT, making moving people to and from shopping and employment easier.  Because BRT serves all of these areas equally, it will likely not change existing shopping patterns in a significant way.

What is Provo City’s role in selecting the BRT route alignment?  Part of the criteria for the federally funded grant is community support.  The existing resolutions approved by the Provo and Orem City Council in 2010 were part of the process of demonstrating community support.  In addition, if changes are made to roadways owned by the City (East Bay Boulevard, Towne Centre Boulevard, 200 West, 920 South, 700 North, 700 East, 900 North and 900 East) or if property needs to be acquired through eminent domain on these streets, the City would need to grant permission.  But for routes on roadways owned by the State of Utah (University Avenue and University Parkway), the City has no specific involvement on the route proposed other than demonstrating community support for the overall project.

What is the current status of the project?  Preliminary engineering has begun on the project, which has been funded by existing transportation taxes levied by Utah County.  Various stakeholder groups have been convened to discuss technical aspects of making the route work as effectively as possible.  UTA has begun meeting with the Federal Transit Administration, including a recent tour of the preferred route with the FTA administrator.   If all proceeds as outlined, the project will be formally submitted for funding within a few months.  Delays in the preliminary engineering, including significant route changes, would push back the funding of the project and reduce the probability that the project will be competitively selected for federal grant funds.


about alternative alignments

What have been the concerns about the route alignment on 900 East?  Initially, the preferred alignment included 900 East from 700 North to University Parkway in a dedicated lane, center running alignment.  As residents living east of 900 East began to express concerns about the project, they included:

  • Concerns about the center dedicated lanes, preventing left turns into and out of driveways and streets connecting to 900 East
  • Concerns about placement of a station near the BYU Creamery on Ninth and the proximity of the station to Wasatch Elementary School
  • Concerns about bicycle and pedestrian safety with the BRT buses running along and stopping on 900 East

Because of those concerns, UTA and Provo City began collaborating on ways to enhance public safety related to the BRT route on 900 East.  During the review of the route with the UTA stakeholder group, the BRT project team agreed to:

  • Eliminate the dedicated center-running lanes on 900 East and have the BRT bus run in mixed traffic, thus allowing more freedom to make left turns
  • Eliminate the planned stop at the Creamery on Ninth in favor of stops on University Parkway near the new expanded MTC and on 900 North near East Campus Drive to pick up riders to and from BYU
  • Add a ten foot wide multiuse path on the east sides and west sides of 900 East from 900 North to University Parkway so that bicycles and pedestrians can be safer and separated from vehicle traffic on 900 East. A similar path on South State Street was recently installed for similar purposes. Much of the west side multiuse path has already been constructed adjacent to BYU.

However, despite these significant changes to the project, many residents living east of 900 East still remain opposed to the 900 East alignment, and have proposed a new alignment which would bring the route east on 700 North, north on 900 East to 900 North, then back west along 800 North and the north on University Avenue to University Parkway.  The UTA stakeholder group forwarded this alignment to UTA for further consideration.

Why is the BRT team concerned about the suggested new alignment?  There are several reasons. 

  • It increases the time it takes to run the route by a little over 2 minutes
  • It does not increase ridership
  • It increases potential conflicts with pedestrian crossings on 800 North and University Avenue
  • It does not meet the needs of the Missionary Training Center, the BYU Conference Center and the Heritage Housing Complex at BYU, all significant ridership generators
  • It eliminates on-street parking on 800 North, pushing 96 commuter vehicles into adjoining neighborhoods
  • It adds almost $11 million to the cost of the project, which cannot be funded out of existing tax revenues. This may in reality kill the project entirely or limit it to an “Orem to BYU project” only which can operate exclusively on state highways without involving the City and be built within existing resources.
  • Despite assertions to the contrary, it does not meet better the needs of UVRMC (the hospital). With the University Avenue alignment, it is 6 blocks walking from the nearest station to the center of the hospital campus. With the 900 East alignment, it is 8 blocks walking to the center of the hospital campus from the closest station, or just about 2 blocks further. The Utah Valley Transit Plan includes another proposed BRT or light rail route along 500 West/State Street, which will include a station right at UVRMC within the next few years.

Will the proposed multiuse path or the BRT route on 900 East require homes to be taken and torn down?  No.  The multiuse path can be mostly built within existing right of way.  Where right of way is needed, it can be secured for the project without eliminating any structures.  However, the 800 North alignment will require two homes to be condemned and residents relocated.

Will a BRT alignment on 900 East result in redevelopment and higher density development in the neighborhood?   No.  Studies and experience have shown that higher density development only occurs on transit routes when the guideways (rail or dedicated lanes) are fixed.  Because BRT on 900 East runs in mixed traffic and the guideways are not fixed, the development community can’t count on the route being there long term and are not likely to invest in higher density housing.   In addition, the city’s zoning ordinance for the property in private ownership east of 900 East limits the uses in the area to single family uses.

Will a BRT alignment on 900 East negatively impact public safety?  No.  With the safety improvements already proposed along the route, safety should actually be enhanced.  Many of the 5,000 vehicles removed from roadways in Provo and Orem would have traversed 900 East.  By removing these typically younger and often distracted drivers from the roadways and replacing them with a well-trained, experienced and licensed transit driver, safety for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers should be improved.  Fewer vehicle trips per day along the route will decrease congestion and improve safety.

Why wasn’t Freedom Boulevard selected as the preferred route instead of University Avenue?   Freedom Boulevard from the Intermodal Center to 700 North was evaluated extensively in the 2010 and 2011 timeframe.  One of the key objectives of the BRT project was to maximize ridership (reducing other vehicle trips as much as possible) while still keeping costs within acceptable guidelines to secure federal funding.  The costs associated with the Freedom Boulevard alignment were significantly greater than those on University Avenue, largely because Freedom would need to be widened to maintain traffic (pedestrian and vehicle) flows and accommodate the center running, two way BRT lanes.  Even under the best scenario, the project costs went up substantially and ridership actually reduced.  The UTA and MAG analysis even included the as-yet-unbuilt convention center and recreation center but the numbers still were not substantially changed.   The additional costs associated with the Freedom alignment did not increase ridership, and with the cost per rider going up significantly, the ability to get federal funds was seriously compromised.