ST. GEORGE — The creation of a public transit route between St. George and the doorstep of Zion National Park continues to move forward with the recent approval of agreements between the city, Washington County and the state.
“Over 10 years ago, a study done on the idea of going to Zion with a shuttle or some kind of transit service was brought up to try and alleviate congestion at Zion National Park,” Cameron Cutler, St. George public works director, told the St. George City Council last week.
Studies on the feasibility of such a transit route were conducted in 2010 and 2016, he said, both of which pointed to a need for an additional cost analysis study to be conducted.
In 2018, the Utah Department of Transportation committed $15 million toward the exploration and implementation of the route.
As St. George is anticipated to oversee operation of the transit route through its SunTran bus service, it will receive the $15 million from UDOT following the City Council’s approval last Thursday of an interlocal agreement with the state agency.
The funding is meant to help establish and maintain the new route for 10 years, which is also how long the city is committed to the operation of the transit line via the agreement.
Should funding to the transit line somehow fall short before the 10 years is up, Washington County has pledged to step in and help as a financial “backstop” through the use of county transit and transient room tax funds. This was the second interlocal agreement the City Council approved.
The Washington County Commission approved its side of the agreement last month.
Prior to voting on the agreements, both of which past unanimously, council members Jimmie Hughes and Gregg McArthur expressed some reservation due to city taxpayers potentially funding part of the transit route’s operations. However, both agreed to support the transit route due to the end date on the city’s obligation to operate it, as well as having other sources of funding.
Cutler said an in depth cost analysis study recently conducted by Zions Public Finance showed that, with UDOT’s $15 million and funds gained from the countywide 0.25% sales tax marked for transportation and transit needs, as well as federal transportation grants, the transit route should be viable for the 10-year period, plus a couple of years.
“With the federal monies in there, I feel confident it will be able to run,” he said.
The cost analysis also showed that the transit route could have a fund balance of $4-5 million following a possible city-county takeover of the route once the 10 year obligation expires, Cutler said.
“It’s a lot of money,” Hughes said. “In a perfect world, we could have had a private partner who could do this. It’s a lot of money. It’s taxpayer money. Hopefully this works out to the end it was meant.”
Cutler previously told St. George News that progress on the proposed St. George-to-Springdale transit route was waiting on the City Council’s passage of the two interlocal agreements with the county and UDOT.
Following Thursday’s approval of the agreements, concepts can finally go design.
Six new electric buses are planned to the new route. Four will be put into operation while the remaining two act as reserves when one of the main buses is in the shop. A new facility for these buses will also need to be built.
UDOT has told city officials that it may be able use a part of land the state agencies leases from the Bureau of Land Management along Brigham Road as a site for a charging station and new bus maintenance facility.
The St. George-to-Springdale bus route is seen as a way to help take some pressure off state Route 9 leading to Zion National Park. The park itself sees millions of visitors annually who bring a lot of vehicle traffic with them.
Mayors of the communities the route will pass through also believe that area residents will use the bus services to go to and from work. This is considered particularly true for people who work in Springdale but do not live there.
Between St. George and Springdale are the cities and towns of Washington City, Hurricane, LaVerkin, Virgin and Rockville.
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