Legislature finds agreement on transit bill which drastically changes UTA

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) - During a conference committee leaders in the Utah House and Senate worked out final details they could agree on to move SB 136 forward. The measure would bring funding and changes to Utah Transit Authority, but some worry money will be wasted in the process.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (R-Sand) said the state has spent billions of dollars on roads over the last several years and he notes it's not enough to keep up with growth.

"That should be a wake up call for all of us that we are not going to be able to keep up building roads," said Sen. Niederhauser.

Lawmakers were in disagreement about where the funding would come from. They settled on multiple solutions including sale tax increase, additional car fees on electrics and hybrids, among others.

The biggest changes are those to UTA. The bill would bring their board from 16 members down to three. Their council would be appointed by the Attorney Generals Office. The measure also calls for changing the name of UTA to the Transit District Utah.

Some critics have estimated the name change could cost upwards of $50 million. Riders like Soren Simonsen said no matter how much the name change costs it's money that could go for transit.

"Could easily go toward transit enhancements," said Simonsen. "Putting in shelters expanding operating hours. Things that people like me that are regular users have been asking for, for a long time."

Sen. Wayne Harper (R-Taylorsville), the bill's sponsor, said that estimation for a name change is not accurate. He notes the changes would be much less and could be done as a transition over time.

"The bill clearly says UTA as you buy a new bus you put the name on it," said Sen. Harper. "If you run out of letter head stock you put the new name on it."

Sen. Harper said the name is needed to distance itself from the checkered past of the organization. UTA was under federal investigation, and made a "non prosecution agreement" in exchange cooperate with investigators.

If signed into law there would be around $5 million generated in the first year, followed by $8 million second year, and would go up from there. The focus would only be on transit.

The measure calls for counties to have say in what they need. Sen. harper points out that Salt Lake County has been asking for more buses while other counties have different needs they could address.

Critics worried about the higher fees on EV's and hybrids would end up punishing those who bought the vehicles which didn't add to air issues along the Wasatch Front. Although Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City) said as a part of the agreement some of those fees will pay for charging infrastructure around the state.

The bill passed out of the committee, but now has to go through both chambers before it could be sent to the Governor's desk.

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