UTA looks to ‘think big’ as it updates its 2050 vision plan

Sep 18, 2023, 6:29 AM

A FrontRunner train moves through Salt Lake City on March 21. Utah Transit Authority is seeking pub...

A FrontRunner train moves through Salt Lake City on March 21. Utah Transit Authority is seeking public comment on its project plan through 2050. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Big ideas to improve Utah’s transit system are on the table as the Utah Transit Authority works to finalize an update to its long-range plan, which aims to identify projects over the next three decades.

The plan, known as “UTA Moves 2050,” identifies future needs and looks at options that can tackle those issues rather than looking at service adjustments residents would like to see anytime in the near future, according to Thomas Wittmann, a senior principal at Nelson/Nygaard, who is helping the agency with the planning process.

It also allows the agency to be prepared as the state’s population continues to soar, especially along the Wasatch Front.

“This is more about what is the vision for the future and how do we improve mobility in the future, as well?” he said, during a virtual open house meeting last week, adding that it’s a time to “think big” about ideas and not worry about constraints.

Future projects may include new or enhanced commuter and light-rail, and frequent or rapid bus service, as well as innovative ideas beyond traditional transit means and “innovative mobility zones.” The latter are pockets within the Wasatch Front, where on-demand service, bike share programs and scooters are considered more effective than fixed-route service.

“Don’t expect any of these improvements to happen next year or in the next six months,” Wittmann later added. “How we’re looking at this is, what investments can be afforded and are most important, or best meet the mobility needs of the region in the next 10 years, in the following 10 years and then between 2040 and 2050.”

UTA spokesman Carl Arky adds the plan is regularly updated on a four-year cycle, in collaboration with regional transportation plan updates set up by the Wasatch Front Regional Council and Mountainland Association of Governments.

In this year’s update, the agency tried to identify goals and objectives for the next few decades, which came down to four key ideas:

  • Maintain the system: Ensure that the existing transit network continues in the future, while updating fleets to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. This also includes making sure there’s a strong workforce.
  • Improve the system: Make the system faster, more reliable and more convenient to use, so that more people will use it.
  • Expand frequent service network: Expanding the FrontRunner, TRAX and bus service network into more areas and adding more 15-minute service.
  • Serve growth areas: This includes extending evening service, opening up more weekend service, especially on Sunday, and adding new routes in specific areas where population growth is taking place.

The document also suggests projects over the next three decades. These include:

  • Expanding FrontRunner service to Payson and Brigham City, on top of providing more frequency and seven-day train service. Agency officials previously explained increased frequency and Sunday service will be unlocked after its double-tracking project, a project not expected to be completed until at least 2028.
  • Creating direct connections between Salt Lake City International Airport and western Salt Lake County, as well as expanding the network of service in southwest Salt Lake County.
  • Extending Utah Valley Express to the Vineyard FrontRunner station, increasing routes between Utah and Salt Lake Counties, and expanding service to areas like Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, and Utah County communities south of Provo.
  • Expanding service between Davis and Weber counties, including Farmington, Layton, Ogden, Roy and Hill Air Force Base.
  • Increasing “bi-directional all-day limited stop service” to Box Elder and Tooele counties.

All of the possible changes in the near future have the potential to increase the number of people living within a half-mile of UTA services by 24%, according to Wittmann. The same goes for jobs within the UTA service area.

“We looked at what where different investments and opportunities were to match where the needs were,” he said. “We looked at what some of the higher needs areas are, where folks didn’t have vehicles, where folks were more likely to have mobility challenges or simply have affordability challenges with existing vehicles.”

UTA will continue to accept public comment on the plan through Sept. 24. Feedback from community events and surveys will go through an evaluation process before the agency releases a final vision plan update, Wittmann said.

Arky adds that the agency’s board of trustees is expected to vote on the updated plan in December.

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UTA looks to ‘think big’ as it updates its 2050 vision plan