On Monday, August 21, Senator Mitt Romney visited the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) to learn about how
UTA and other local associations utilize federal funding. The day began at the Salt Lake Central Station,
where the senator and his team were met by a group that included the UTA Board of Trustees - Carlton
Christensen, Beth Holbrook, and Jeff Acerson - as well as representatives from the Utah Department of
Transportation (UDOT ), the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WRFC), and the Mountainland Association
of Governments (MAG).
Christensen was joined by UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras for opening remarks, welcoming Senator Romney and expressing UTA's and UDOT 's appreciation and gratitude for the federal funds these agencies have received. Jaron Robertson, acting light rail general manager, spoke about how the TRAX Blue Line will be using federal funds to upgrade to new cars with level boarding, increasing accessibility for all UTA riders. He was followed by Project Manager Janelle Robertson, who with Braceras, talked about UDOT/UTA's FrontRunner strategic double-tracking project, which is made possible through federal funding.
Hal Johnson of Innovative Mobility Solutions highlighted UTA's fleet electrification efforts that will lead to cleaner air along the Wasatch Front, a necessary improvement when the majority of Utahns live in a dense stretch between the Wasatch mountains and the Great Salt Lake. UTA On Demand, which recently received 10 new ADA accessible Ford E-Transit™ vehicles, was highlighted by Shaina Quinn, program manager of Innovative Mobility Solutions, as she and Senator Romney rode in a UTA On Demand vehicle from Salt Lake Central Station to UTA Headquarters.
Transit-oriented developments were also a hot topic of discussion Monday, with Paul Drake of UTA's real estate department and Mayor Dawn Ramsey of South Jordan City highlighting how these developments can keep housing and employment centered around major, transit-accessible locations. Andrew Gruber, executive director of the WFRC, and Jeff Silvestrini, mayor of Millcreek, talked about the strengths of the Wasatch Choice Vision, a prospective development plan that includes transportation and aims to maximize the choices Utahns have for housing and employment. They also discussed how federal funding might help Utah reach major growth milestones while preserving open space and farmland and protecting natural resources like water.
Trustee Holbrook and MAG Executive Director Michelle Carroll steered the presentations toward their conclusion. Holbrook celebrated the opening of the Ogden Express (OGX), which was made possible through collaboration with various local and federal partners, including $70 million from the Federal Transit Administration. Earlier this year, MAG was able to receive a $24.5 million RAISE grant that, in partnership with UDOT, UTA, MAG, and WFRC, will provide for a package of fifteen projects to boost first- and last mile connectivity.
Throughout the day, the conversation frequently touched on Utah's unique spirit of community, collaboration, and working together. "It is the Utah way," said Mayor Silvestrini. "It is a collaborative community." Andrew Gruber echoed this sentiment, saying, "It's all Team Utah, all of us working together to make this vision a reality," and thanking the senator and his staff for their continued support.
UTA Executive Director Jay Fox touched on the importance of collaboration across Utah's agencies. "A lot of the work we're doing here, and a lot of the federal support that goes into that work, is about connectivity . ... We now have students that can travel from BYU seamlessly across our network to Weber State. That's a huge step forward . ... And as somebody who has worked for the Federal Transit Administration and saw many systems across the country, I think it's rather unique for an area of this population size."