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Provo, Orem residents take bus rapid transit fight to state Supreme Court

July 30, 2016

PROVO — A group of Utah County residents who want plans for a new bus rapid transit system in Provo and Orem to be decided by voters is asking the Utah Supreme Court to intervene in the case.

The group’s petitions to put the adoption of the transit system to a citizen referendum were rejected in both cities on July 21. In a petition for writ for extraordinary relief filed Friday, the group claims the petitions meet all requirements for prompting a referendum on the ballot in November.

The Utah Transit Authority voted July 15 to approve pre-grant spending on the Provo-Orem Transportation Improvement Project. The bus rapid transit system would significantly expand service in several busy areas of Provo and Orem.

A federal grant would cover about $75 million of the project’s estimated $190 million price tag; another $65 million would come from a local sales tax bond; contributions from the Utah Department of Transportation are estimated at $47 million; and the project would use about $3 million in local sales taxes.

Vocal opponents of the new bus rapid transit system, including some business owners and a former Provo city councilman, have said the ridership demand for such a transportation option has been paltry. UTA officals and proponents of the project say it addresses existing and expected road and transit infrastructure needs.

According to court documents, Provo city officials rejected the citizen petition for a referendum by saying the project was enacted under a the Utah Interlocal Agreement Act, which protects such decisions from being challenged by referendum.

In the court petition filed by Salt Lake City-based attorney Frank Mylar, eight Provo residents argue that the law’s application “would be an unlawful restriction on the legislative power of the voters under … the Utah Constitution.”

The court petition filed against Orem, which names seven opposing residents, was also prepared by Mylar. It includes a letter to the group from the city saying the petition for a referendum was rejected because “it concerns a matter that is not subject to a referendum.”

The court filing in the Orem case counters with an argument similar to the one made against Provo.

“To the extent that the Utah Interlocal Agreement Act prohibits referenda on the creation of interlocal agreements, it in direct conflict with … the Utah Constitution and it should be struck down as unconstitutional for this reason,” the document states.

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