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Options for UTA's future include state takeover, losing control over future projects

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL  |  Posted Oct 5th, 2017 @ 4:11pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — The future for the Utah Transit Authority laid out to a legislative task force Thursday ranged from losing control over future projects to an outright takeover by the state.

Leaving the agency intact was not among three options offered to the Legislature's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force. Members will be surveyed about their preferences before a possible vote at their next meeting on Oct. 23.

"This is a huge change," the task force's co-chairman, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said, that would include new access to state transportation funds for transit needs, including a possible quarter-cent sales tax increase in some counties.

The proposals for changing UTA comes after years of concerns being raised about the agency now overseen by a 16-member board of trustees appointed by various government officials and entities.

Several legislative audits have criticized the salaries and benefits paid to UTA officials, as well as transit development deals that are the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.

UTA, which has enacted numerous reforms, has signed a nonprosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office and has agreed to submit to up to three years of federal supervision.

Harper, who headed the task force working group that came up with the options, said there was "zero support" in the group for making UTA a division of the Utah Department of Transportation.

He said he expected the task force to end up advancing to the 2018 Utah Legislature a governance structure for UTA "in between" the other two options, which put UTA in charge of maintaining the current transit system.

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Differences between those options include whether the state takes ownership of the existing bus, light rail and commuter train infrastructure and gets a share of the existing local option sales taxes being collected for transit projects.

Under both, it would be up to the state whether UTA is involved with future state-funded transit projects.

UTA officials attended the task force meeting but did not testify. UTA trustee Bret Millburn, a member of the task force, said there has been "a fair amount of change" at the agency and urged careful consideration of the options.

"Yes, the agency has had its challenges just like any other entity," Millburn, a Davis County commissioner, said. "But I'm proud to say the organization has stepped up, taken responsibility and is making efforts to move forward."

Additional information will be posted this afternoon.

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