Ogden City Council relinquishes streetcar dream for now

Thursday , July 30, 2015 - 12:55 PM4 comments

OGDEN — In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Ogden City Council propelled the city forward on a transit path that had been scrutinized for more than a decade.

The selected 5.3-mile route will connect the city’s Intermodal Transit Center at 2350 S. Wall Avenue to Weber State University, the Dee Events Center and McKay Dee Hospital by way of 25th Street and Harrison Boulevard. And Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was chosen over streetcar as the mode of transit, mostly due to cost. While a light-rail streetcar system would run about $220 million, BRT comes in around $60 million.

“There truly was a lot of good information for either mode and route,” said Bill Cook, executive director for the City Council. “But when it came down to it, it’s viewed that this route and mode are affordable and doable.”

Norm Tarbox, vice-president for Administrative Services at Weber State University, said that he’d participated in four studies with Ogden city and the Utah Transit Authority.

“So personally I’m as tickled as I think anybody could be that we’re at this point ... and we hope to be able to bring a solid transit project to the city of Ogden,” Tarbox said.

Councilman Doug Stephens cast the lone vote against the joint resolution approving the preferred route and mode.

“I do approve of the corridor. I just hoped that we could have looked at streetcar and used that as a positive economic investment into our community,” Stephens said.

Councilmembers Caitlin Gochnour and Amy Wicks were not present for the vote but submitted written statements regarding the momentous decision.

“I love the concept of a streetcar in Ogden. he permanency of the route ties to our past and support from the community,” Wicks said.

However, Wicks acknowledged that Ogden city simply did not have the funding to make up the difference in cost between BRT and a streetcar system.

“It’s a matter of moving forward with something and taking steps to ensure it has the most positive impact on the community as it can — or doing nothing,” said Wicks, adding that “zoning to promote transit-oriented development is long overdue and should be a priority.”

Gochnour also celebrated the chosen route up 25th Street — 30th Street to Harrison had been the other option under serious consideration.

“The 25th Street route celebrates the rich diversity and vibrancy of our community,” Gochnour said. The long-established street runs east-west through the heart of Ogden’s older east-central neighborhoods.

Utah Transit Authority Project Manager Hal Johnson held out the possibility that BRT could actually serve as a stepping stone to streetcar some time in the future.

“Looking at BRT versus streetcar, there’s a bigger upside with the streetcar,” Johnson said. “But it’s going to be very hard to obtain in the local and federal funding climate that we’re in.” But by moving forward with this project, Johnson said it “sets some stones across the river so we can continue to progress . . . and this can evolve into something different and more as the community changes and evolves as well.”

Streetcar supporter Travis Pate, who lives in Ogden’s Jefferson Avenue Historic District where old trolley tracks are embedded in the center of the street, expressed his disappointment and pleaded with the City Council to reconsider its action.

“I really think that this should be on the next meeting,” Pate said. “And we should consider it and say hey let’s move forward, let’s look at engineering costs and let’s possibly repeal this and do it right with the streetcar.”

According to Johnson, Tuesday’s Council vote opens the door for approvals from Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) and UTA, and allows his staff to finalize environmental documentation and “New Starts” criteria that will be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration in early 2016 for that agency’s consideration.

“What this does, it gives us a hunting license to go seek funds,” Johnson said.

That funding mix could consist of federal New Starts funding — which can cover up to 50 percent of the project’s capital costs, plus federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds and Congestion Mitigation/ Air Quality (CMAQ) funds which are administered by WFRC. Weber County also has revenues from a third-quarter sales tax passed in 2006 that could help serve as match for the project. But funding ongoing operations can be tricky, Johnson said.

“That’s one thing the 25th Street route has going for it — that we’re able to capitalize on our current 603 (bus) service to help offset some of those costs,” Johnson said.

If approved and funded, construction on the new BRT route could begin in late 2017 or early 2018 and be ready to transport riders as early as 2020.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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