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Wasatch County takes careful approach with public transit push

High Valley Transit
High Valley Transit offers rides on both conventional buses and on-demand microtransit shuttles in Summit County.

Wasatch County is exploring options for public transit, and it’s using  a strategic approach to garner public support for the idea.

So far this year, the Wasatch County Council has funded a public transit study and denied funding for a free bus loop pilot project.

The bus proposal came from the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce, which wanted to offer free rides to people in town for the 2022 youth and junior world biathlon championships at Soldier Hollow this month. The idea was to bus people to stops in Heber City, Midway, Charleston and other areas, then collect data on the route’s popularity and effectiveness.

The county council decided against paying the $40,000 the chamber requested for that service. County Manager Dustin Grabau says that’s because the council’s being careful about public perception, since it may eventually ask taxpayers to help fund public transit.

“If it were to go poorly, it might sour public opinion on public transit, rather than if we did a more careful approach to it,” Grabau says. “What we’re hoping, is to have more input from people with expertise specifically in transit planning, not that I think that effort wasn’t well-intentioned. We want to just be careful with how we’re spending public funds and making sure that, as we implement these services, that we’re doing it in the right way.”

Grabau says to pay for public transit, the county could seek to levy sales taxes. There are five sales-tax options he says the county could add, and some of those would require voter support. In total, they would add up to $1.25 for every $10 spent.

Earlier this month, the council approved spending $21,000 to fund a study by the High Valley Transit District, which provides buses and rides in Summit County.

Wasatch County already has some data on demand for public transit locally. That’s from a 2020 study by the Mountainland Association of Governments.

High Valley Transit Executive Director Caroline Rodriguez says in Wasatch County, the district’s new study will build on previous work that led to the district’s existence in Summit County, as well as MAG’s 2020 work.

“Wasatch County has already completed their demand study,” Rodriguez says. “They already know there is high demand for a public transit service. What that $20,000 or so will be used for, is to create a service plan for exactly how High Valley Transit could serve Wasatch County. That will get into the details of routing, types of vehicles, service hours, trip estimation - all of the nitty-gritty details.”

Rodriguez and Grabau say there’s enough need that High Valley and the county are trying to make a plan and set it in motion. Grabau says he hopes there could be service in place within the year.

For more on High Valley Transit, visit highvalleytransit.org. To see the data from MAG’s 2020 public transit study in Wasatch County, go to connectingwasatch.info.

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