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UTA may need another $10M on Provo-Orem bus line due to cost overruns
October 12, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY — The $190 million price tag for the bus rapid transit line through Provo and Orem has jumped $14 million, and all but about $4 million of the budget contingency has been spent, a UTA committee was told Wednesday.

That means the Utah Transit Authority, managing the project known as BRT that will provide quick bus service to BYU, Utah Valley University and other locations along a 10.5-mile route, may have to come up with another $10 million.

No action was taken by the agency's Finance and Operations Committee Wednesday, but the stakeholders in the project are set to hash out what cuts can be made at a meeting Thursday, UTA's capital projects director, Steven Meyer, said.

Then it will be up to UTA trustees to decide how to adjust the budget for the project that the agency is already contributing $73 million toward. The rest of the funding is coming from the Utah Department of Transportation and a $75 million federal grant.

"We're going to deliver a first-class project to the community," UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson told the committee. "That's still important. I don't think we should look to really scale it back and do something the community is not really proud of."

Benson said UTA is committed to finishing the project in time for the start of the 2018 school year and maintaining its quality while making it fit into the agency's budget.

He also said he expects the other entities involved in the project to step up, too. Besides UDOT, the Mountainland Association of Governments, Provo, Orem and Utah County are also partners.

"We're going to expect that our partners are willing to experience as much pain as we do," Benson said. "And I think with that kind of an attitude, we'll get to a good place."

Meyer blamed the overrun largely on increased construction costs and higher-than-anticipated land values. He said the price for property along the route was expected to be as low as $15 a square foot but has been as much as $40 a square foot.

The budget situation could have been even worse, Meyer said, had some $6 million in savings not already been identified, such as using asphalt rather than concrete for bus lanes and using concrete rather than steel girders for a bridge over the Provo River.

He compared concerns raised about how much the bus line will be used to those that surfaced before the first TRAX light rail line in Salt Lake City, saying the rapid transit bus line "opens the door" to similar projects in the future.

The committee is scheduled to meet again Monday about the BRT budget. Meyer said in an interview his presentation at Wednesday's meeting was the first to UTA trustees about the cost overruns.

"We do want to make sure this is the last time we have to ask the board for a budget increase," Meyer said. A slightly higher shortfall had been discussed in July by the entities involved in the BRT, he said, and made public in a Facebook post.

That's where Brent Taylor, a UTA trustee and mayor of North Ogden, first heard about the budget issues. Taylor questioned the situation at the last UTA board meeting in September and was told by Benson there would be recommendations.

Taylor said Wednesday the board should have discussed using contingency funds before they were committed. He said the overruns are just the latest example of a lack of board oversight.

"My concern is the project is so far over budget, and I've not yet heard serious conversations about what can we cut, how can we get this back into budget. The impetus is more funds, and I'm not sure that's the right answer," he said.

Taylor, who has sparked friction with UTA leaders before over the board's involvement in governing the agency, said as the mayor of a small city, he'd have to bring a project experiencing cost overruns back to his city council.

"I think in general we need more active board oversight on a project like this," one of UTA's largest undertakings, Taylor said. "It comes back to the board so late in the process, we have no choice pretty much but to approve the overage."