UTA gets $950K federal grant for transportation study; names new director

A UTA bus and a TRAX train move through Salt Lake City on April 4, 2017. UTA received a $950,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday.

A UTA bus and a TRAX train move through Salt Lake City on April 4, 2017. UTA received a $950,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah transit researchers are getting a major funding boost as they seek ways to connect the University of Utah's Research Park with a growing innovation district in Salt Lake City.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday announced recipients of its annual Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grants, including $950,000 to the Utah Transit Authority, for its "TechLink Corridor Study." It's the only Utah project among the $175 million doled out in RAISE grants this year.

It aims to find " high-capacity" transit alternatives that can reduce vehicle mileage, reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency between the east and west parts of Salt Lake City, particularly between Research Park and the city's Depot, Granary and airport districts, all areas where business is growing.

"The project generates quality of life benefits by leveraging changing travel patterns to accommodate fast, reliable and affordable options to growth areas in downtown Salt Lake City, while also considering potential impacts to underserved communities and mitigate the threat of potential displacement of important social services that serve current residents," the U.S. Department of Transportation wrote about the project.

The grant covers most of the nearly $1.4 million needed to study the project.

In all, the department awarded close to $1 billion toward 90 capital or planning projects in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. The largest grants went toward projects in New Hampshire and New Mexico. One of the projects reconnects parts of Manchester, New Hampshire, through transportation projects; the other improves U.S. Highway 64 in San Juan County, New Mexico. Each project received $25 million in funds.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement that he believes the dozens of new projects will improve the nation's infrastructure, strengthen supply chains, improve safety and combat climate issues.

"As in past years, we received far more applications than we could fund: this cycle saw about a 10-to-1 ratio of requests to available dollars," he said. "But going forward, with the passage of President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we will be able to support far more infrastructure projects to support jobs and everyday life in communities across the country."

UTA hires new executive director

UTA, also on Friday, announced it has hired Jay Fox as its new executive director, replacing Carolyn Gonot, who left earlier this year to take the general manager and CEO position at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, California.

Fox had served as the deputy general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, in Philadelphia, since July 2019. He was the legal lead for SEPTA's $1.2 billion King of Prussia rail project and its Trolley Modernization program, according to UTA officials.

In a statement Friday, Fox said he was "excited" to work with other UTA leaders and the 2,600 employees at the agency, and tackle Utah's transportation needs amid growth over the past few decades. The Beehive State was the fasted-growing state, percentage-wise over the past decade, according to the 2020 census. Most of the growth was centered along the Wasatch Front.

The TechLink Corridor Study is one of many projects either in the planning or construction stage aimed at addressing the issue.

"Utah's Wasatch Front is experiencing unprecedented growth. Transit will no longer be an essential service, it will be an indispensable resource," Fox said. "We need to grow intelligently and deliberately to meet the needs of this region."

His contract was approved Friday, according to the UTA Board of Trustees. Fox is expected to take over the vacant position on Jan. 10, 2022.


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