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Ogden BRT project ‘on schedule’ for late 2023 completion; WSU shuttle planned this fall

By Cathy McKitrick - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 4, 2022

Photo supplied, Utah Transit Authority

Construction work on the Ogden bus rapid transit system takes place Jan. 20, 2022, at Weber State University.

OGDEN — The dream of sleek, fast public transit connecting Ogden’s FrontRunner Station through downtown and up to Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital has finally begun to materialize.

And both the campus and city have the orange cones to prove it.

Work on the electric bus rapid transit line launched in spring 2021 and should finish in late 2023.

James Larson, public relations and marketing strategist for the Utah Transit Authority, happily reported that the project is “100% on schedule despite the crazy weather.”

“This is the first public transit that actually runs through a college campus in the U.S. There’s nothing like this anywhere else,” Larson said.

Photo supplied, Utah Transit Authority

Construction work on the Ogden bus rapid transit system takes place outside the Dee Events Center at Weber State University on March 23, 2022.

The portion through campus will feature three of the route’s 13 stations: Weber State Central in front of the Val A. Browning Center, a second at student housing and the third near the Dee Events Center.

“We’ve finished the majority of construction in the middle of campus. We’re wrapping up construction on Village Drive, and then moving forward we’re doing the grading pretty much from the center of campus all the way over to the Dee Events Center,” Larson said.

Starting Aug. 29 of this year — the first day of fall semester — Larson said UTA will begin operating electric buses to shuttle people back and forth along the new on-campus route to the Dee Events Center.

To entice students, staff, faculty and game fans to use the new Wildcat shuttle, Larson said that Weber State will offer free parking at the Dee Events Center.

Temporary disruption

Dubbed the Ogden Express or OGX, the project’s gain has not come without a little pain. But Chad Downs, project manager for WSU Facilities Management, believes the end result will be well worth the inconvenience.

“It’s been a bit of a headache for folks, because they’ve taken up a portion of the ground all through campus,” Downs said. “But it’s our goal to get better functionality of transportation through our campus, so it’s a double-edged thing.”

Downs and others look ahead to the many benefits the full 5.3-mile, $130 million OGX route will provide.

Those upgrades include a fixed guideway, traffic signal priority, more frequent runs, automatic bus ramps for individuals with disabilities, and 13 stations outfitted with canopies, laminated glass and artwork reflecting the community.

But Downs also sees big gains for Weber State in particular.

“Hopefully it will relieve lots of pressure on driving and parking, which is one of our biggest complaints we get on campus,” he said, adding that low-emitting electric buses line up with Weber’s sustainability goals.

“That, combined with getting people out of their cars, should help with air quality,” Downs said.

Transforming a city

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said the city has worked “hand in glove” with UTA throughout the project’s construction.

“We recognize that some of Ogden’s infrastructure is a little aged,” Caldwell said. “As we redo some of those streets, we’ve used those opportunities to put in updated water, power and sewer lines and to really expand what we can do along that (transit) line.”

Ogden City began work on Washington Boulevard during the COVID-19 pandemic when downtown traffic had significantly dropped off, so closed travel lanes became the norm.

“We’ve got orange barrels everywhere downtown and (people) just think it’s part of the collective upgrading of our infrastructure,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell noted that the bulk of complaints have come from businesses along the Harrison Boulevard portion of the BRT route between 25th and 36th streets.

“If a business feels like they’re negatively impacted because people can’t come in, they can apply for a business mitigation grant,” Caldwell said, adding that UTA manages distribution of those funds.

Caldwell described the Ogden Express project as “generational.”

“You only get a chance to do a handful of really big projects that will last for generations and can transform a community and how they move about — and how you develop it,” Caldwell said, noting that future families might not want driveways full of cars.

Thanks to a federal grant, riding the new OGX will be fare-free for the first three years. That should help encourage people to leave their vehicles behind.

“If we can move people on and off campus in an entirely different way and utilize some of that open land that’s being parked on, Weber State can continue to expand,” Caldwell said. “There’s a paradigm shift we have to do as we continue to grow. Those types of transportation alternatives need to be a big part of it.”

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