Welcome to High Valley Transit. Next stop: Heber?
Last week was a notable one for public transit in Summit County, as the newly expanded Snyderville Basin Public Transit District convened for the first time and (almost) selected “High Valley Transit” as its new name, one of a number of administrative tasks on its agenda as it sets out to meet a July 1 deadline to take over operations in the Basin from Park City Transit.
The district will need to hold a public hearing to officially change the name, which officials indicated is scheduled for March 4. Other finalists included Altitude Transit and Peak Link, but officials worried the latter might easily be changed to a derisive term.
The day before the district’s first meeting, the Summit County Council signed a deal with Wasatch County to lay the groundwork to connect the neighboring counties via public transit routes, a move officials said was a significant formalization of the plan to establish more concrete local ties.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Summit County Manager Tom Fisher. “… I think, within the next two years, you’re going to see some decent progress to getting transit on the ground between the two counties.”
The transit district has hired a contractor to take over the bus lines that run in the Snyderville Basin that are currently operated by Park City Transit. Officials have indicated they would like to see the transit district grow to serve the broader Wasatch Back, eyeing it as a potential solution for some of the area’s traffic congestion.
The agreement sets broad parameters for Fisher to meet with Wasatch County Manager Mike Davis monthly to discuss regional transit, and empowers them to determine a process to hire a consultant, with costs to be shared between the two governments.
The memorandum of understanding is a first formal step, one that Fisher indicated might be unique between the counties, but it doesn’t prescribe more than monthly meetings. Fisher, however, indicated there could be tangible progress — like a bus route running between Wasatch County and Summit County destinations — in 2024.
“(The councils) don’t just want this to be, ‘Me and Mike come and report that you’ve talked about transit for two years.’ They want something to get done,” Fisher said in a recent interview.
Davis indicated at a joint meeting with both county councils that the first place to establish transit would likely be around the Jordanelle Reservoir, with options to expand the routes farther into Wasatch County.
Councilors on both sides expressed gratitude and hope for the opportunity to work together.
“I like building these relationships and learning from each other and working together to solve the problems,” said Wasatch County Councilor Marilyn Crittenden. “This is a good problem to solve.”
Summit County Councilor Roger Armstrong said the two counties face mutual challenges that are inextricably linked, and that it would be up to the elected officials to find solutions.
While Fisher said it would be a “logical conclusion” if the Snyderville Basin Public Transit District operated the inter-county bus lines, that is not a determined outcome.
The Summit County Council is composed entirely of Democrats, while all but one Wasatch County Councilor is a Republican. Partisan politics are often less intrusive at the local level, but the differing philosophies could be put to the test by a requirement in the transit district’s charter that all areas within its boundaries levy an optional sales tax, something Wasatch County has not done.
That provision would apply to Wasatch County if it annexes into the district.
Fisher indicated he and Davis would work together to find solutions, and said that the Military Installation Development Authority is another potential funding source for transit around the Jordanelle Reservoir. MIDA has land-use authority over thousands of acres on the western side of the reservoir.
While those discussions have a longer timeline — one that will likely see increased pressure as homes continue to be built around the Jordanelle — the transit district has about 18 weeks to start providing service to thousands of people in the Snyderville Basin, a sprint in governmental terms.
On Thursday, former County Councilor Kim Carson was voted the president of the district, while Joe Spink was named the vice-president and secretary. The board bore a striking resemblance to last year’s County Council, with Carson joined by three current councilors, Roger Armstrong, Chris Robinson and Doug Clyde.
Spink was the only new face, and he introduced himself as a civil engineer who works on renewable energy projects in the Southwest, with experience designing and building portions of transit systems in the Pacific Northwest.
Summit County has been paying an increasing amount to Park City Transit in recent years, and county attorneys have indicated disentangling the relationship will be difficult. Challenges include determining the county’s ownership stake in property like buses, as well as what to do with Park City Transit’s savings, which the county has paid into, and determining where the proceeds of certain sales taxes are to be used.
The county has contracted with transportation company Via Transportation Inc. to plan operations for the transit district, and officials anticipate entering into a contract for the firm to operate the district’s bus services this summer.
County officials say their goal is to offer the same or increased service to riders and are eager to pursue innovative solutions. Park City officials have said the city’s operations are at capacity, and are looking forward to playing a supporting role in a larger regional system.
Residents can comment on the proposed name change at the public hearing or by emailing TDadmin@summitcounty.org.