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Summit County misses on $25M grant for bus rapid transit

Summit County's bid for a $25 million federal grant fell short last month. The money was eyed to help finance the proposed $58 million bus rapid transit project to run from Kimball Junction to the Old Town transit center.

Summit County has missed out on a $25 million grant to help fund its bus rapid transit project from Kimball Junction to Old Town.

For the fourth year in a row, the county’s request to fund nearly half of its proposed bus rapid transit system hit a dead end in Washington, D.C.

The proposed $58 million project would run buses in their own dedicated lanes from Kimball Junction to the Old Town transit center. Park City staffers are working on a similar project for the S.R. 248 entryway.

Caroline Rodriguez, the High Valley Transit District general manager, told the district’s board on Thursday that the Utah Department of Transportation supports the project. At the U.S. Department of Transportation, however, it was another story.

“When you get to the secretary’s desk, it’s really all politics,” Rodriguez said. “You never know which way the wind’s going to blow.”

In an interview with KPCW, Rodriguez said the importance of the bus rapid transit project is twofold. It would efficiently shuttle passengers from fixed destinations, she said, and also incentivize increased transit use. Bus rapid transit forms a cornerstone of the county’s strategies to deal with traffic problems on S.R. 224.

“It's absolutely critical. I think our community has said loud and clear they don't want a highway width expansion for single-occupancy vehicles, because we all know that if you build more highway, more cars will just fill it up,” she said. “Putting in these dedicated lanes for buses gives bus riders a leg up and motivates them to use the transit system in place. Because while the cars are sitting in traffic, the bus is flying by.”

The other much-discussed traffic fixes for Kimball Junction are those being put forward in relation to the proposed Tech Center development. Proponents say that project would create a pool of money to pay for transit projects, usually identified as burying S.R. 224 to allow traffic to flow directly onto the interstate.

Rodriguez said the bus rapid transit project is separate from those discussions, which the county is holding with developer Dakota Pacific Real Estate.

“If the Dakota Pacific project went forward, would (BRT) be integrated? Yes, absolutely,” she said. “But we'll proceed regardless of what happens with that project.”

Though she said bus rapid transit appears to be eligible to receive money from the financing mechanisms discussed with the development project, Rodriguez outlined the one key source for the money.

“Federal investment is critical to getting it moving,” she said.

The project is under environmental review, which Rodriguez expects to be finished early next year. Once that is finished, the project will be 60% designed. The remaining steps will be finalizing the design and securing funding. Rodriguez said there are other federal grant programs her team will attempt to tap. The grants would pay for construction, which she said is likely a year or two away.

Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.