Throughout the summer and fall, the legislature convened a special Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force to take a deep dive into a variety of possible improvements to transportation policy and governance as well as ways to streamline and align investment and funding strategies for Utah’s long-term transportation needs. Members of the task force included local government officials, legislators, and business and community leaders including Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie and Utah Transportation Coalition co-chairs, Sophia DiCaro and Wade Sherman.

The business community understands that investment in multi-modal transportation is directly tied to economic development and quality of life. Between Beattie’s leadership on the task force, to the Chamber’s policy team efforts and business leaders’ involvement in the Utah Transportation Coalition, the Salt Lake Chamber has always lead out as the voice of business on transportation issues and the task force process has proved to be no exception.

The most visible and widely reported topic covered by the task force at the November 27th meeting was regarding changes to the Utah Transit Authority’s current governance structure to include state oversight. This is partly due a desire to begin including transit in the Transportation Investment Fund (TIF), currently a main source of funding for state roads. The Task Force met to discuss an option for reforming the governance structure of UTA. This proposal was approved by the task force unanimously, with the stipulation that the option presented is refined and presented again at a future meeting to allow for more time to address questions and concerns and explore other possible solutions. Here are the facts you need to know about the meeting, the proposal and what to expect moving forward.

The proposal suggests:

  • Replacing the current 16-member UTA Board of Directors with a 3-member full time “transit commission” that would serve as the governing body for UTA.
  • The Governor would appoint each of the “transit commissioners” from a list of recommended nominees provided by counties within the UTA service district.
  • The transit commission duties include nominating projects to the Utah Transportation Commission (UDOT) for TIF participation, hiring senior positions that report to the commission, administrative supervision of UTA, approve transit service plans, approve bond issuance for the State Bonding Commission for review and approval, prepare written reports to the governor and legislature.
  • An additional 9-member advisory board appointed by counties within UTA service district to approve transit commissioners’ compensation plans, work with locals on service plans, and assist with public outreach and constituent services.

The proposal does not suggest:

  • Getting rid of the UTA President and CEO. This was not explicitly mentioned in the proposal or presentation to the task force, nor was it discussed.
  • A complete takeover of UTA, however it does expand state control and conformity with state agencies.

The proposal prompted discussion and questions by task force members concerned that despite a move in the right direction, the plan still represents too much control by the state and not by local counties and municipalities. Beattie agreed with fellow committee members that the proposal substantially takes away local authority when comparing it to the structure of UTA today. Others on the task force questioned whether 3 commissioners was the best approach or whether a 5 commissioner model would be more effective, and what role counties within UTA’s service district would play in the outlined structure.

In all, members of the task force felt the proposal was a step in the right direction but agreed that the plan needs refinement and should address the significant questions and concerns brought to light during the discussion. Beattie encapsulated the task force members’ comments by explaining that “reading the plan on paper is one thing, but wrapping my head around the implementation of it is another.” Ultimately, he made the motion to approve of the plan with the caveat that at least one more task force meeting be called to continue exploring possible solutions, and address the valid questions and concerns of the committee to make sure that the final plan is the best compromise possible for all stakeholders. The Chamber is supportive of this process and will continue to update the business community on the outcomes and next steps of this task force in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, to learn more and see the full details of the proposal, check out the powerpoint and audio of the meeting here.