OGDEN — The start of construction on the planned bus rapid transit system linking the Ogden FrontRunner station and Weber State University hinges, at least in part, on the acquisition of a 7-Eleven on Harrison Boulevard.
Utah Transit Authority, overseeing the project, offered the owners of the property at the northwest corner of Harrison Boulevard and 32nd Street $1.65 million for the land in 2019, but they rebuffed it and talks have stalled. A 7-Eleven convenience store and vacant garage sit in the half-acre piece of land, owned by Edward and Carol Marquez of Calimesa, California.
Accordingly, to prod things along, the UTA Board of Trustees this week approved a resolution authorizing the Utah Department of Transportation to use powers of eminent domain to acquire the land.
“Project construction is set to begin as soon as UTA obtains legal occupancy of the property,” reads a UTA memo on the matter. The 7-Eleven operators, who declined comment, lease the land from the Marquezes.
Similarly, Paul Drake, UTA’s director of real estate and transit-oriented development, warned that failure to acquire the 0.48-acre plot could set the $120 million bus rapid transit, or BRT, project back. “We’re at the point that the property acquisition is threatening the project schedule. Failing to acquire that property soon would cause project delays and perhaps some significant cost,” he told trustees at their meeting last Wednesday.
The property is only one of three full parcel acquisitions UTA needs for the 5.3-mile long Ogden BRT project. The land at 3195 Harrison Blvd., sitting diagonally across Harrison Boulevard from Mount Ogden Junior High School, is to serve as a BRT station stop. The other two full parcel acquisitions are complete, according to Janelle Robertson, a UTA project manager, while the plans will require another 40-plus “strip takes” as well, acquisitions of portions of properties.
Robertson spoke in less dire terms than Drake. “We are close to signing a right of occupancy with (the 3195 Harrison Blvd. property owners) so we can get on the property to start construction. There’s no controversy here right now,” she said. The UTA, she added, may have to tap powers of eminent domain to acquire other pieces of property needed for the project.
UTA reps had earlier said groundbreaking would occur last fall or in the first weeks of 2021. Now, Beth Holbrook, the UTA trustee representing Davis, Weber and Box Elder counties, foresees groundbreaking for the project in the spring with completion as early as December 2022. Work will likely start on the Weber State University campus, which, along with nearby McKay-Dee Hospital, will serve as one of the BRT endpoints.
The BRT project, not just any old bus line, has been in the work for years. The vision calls for creation of a relatively fast transit corridor connecting the FrontRunner station near downtown Ogden and the WSU campus and McKay-Dee Hospital. The route largely follows 25th Street east from the downtown area to Harrison Boulevard, where it turns south toward the university and hospital.
“Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, combines the speed of light rail and the low cost of the bus,” reads a UTA informational paper on the plans. “When operational, riders will be able to catch the bus every 10-15 minutes on weekdays and 15-30 minutes on weekends.”
The system would use electric buses capable of “communicating” with street lights along the route and turning them green to assure quick transit along the corridor, according to Holbrook.
A BRT system, Utah Valley Express, operates in Utah County and another links Magna and West Valley to the UTA’s Trax system in Millcreek. UTA is seeking input on creation of another BRT project that would connect Davis and Salt Lake counties.